Strong and silent Holt Kingston has one mission: to infiltrate a dangerous cult with more firepower than faith. But when the compound's ruthless leader has a gorgeous former member in his sights, single-minded Holt won't rest until the mesmerizing Lindsey Pike is safe.
After living undercover for years helping others flee, Lindsey isn't used to someone else calling the shots. Not even someone as capable and captivating as Holt. But now someone knows she's backand wants her captured. Maybe even killed. As the cult slowly closes in on them, Lindsey can no longer hide how much Holt's protection soothes her peace of mind. And heals her wounded heart.
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For the third night in a row the wind and rain whipped up the Oregon Coast and smacked into the side of Lind-sey Pike's small cottage. The temps dipped into lower than normal range for late summer, but that was only part of the reason for keeping her windows closed. The other sat about eleven miles away, up a steep hill and behind a locked gate.
But cool temperature or not, a steady banging put her already zapping nerves further on edge. The rattle came first, then the thud. That would teach her to wait on fixing the shutter in the family room until "sometime next week."
She leaned back into the stack of pillows piled behind her on her bed and reopened her book. After she stared at the same line for what felt like the billionth time, she decided maybe this wasn't the right night for dry research reading. She slipped her legs over the side of the bed and winced when her bare toes hit the chilled hardwood floor.
She made it two steps down the hallway in search of the perfect mindless magazine before she stilled. Something was off. In the air, in the tight space something.
Up on the balls of her feet, she spun around, thinking to head back to the bedroom and to the gun she kept locked in a safe in her nightstand. Then it hit her. No banging. The wind still howled and the rafters shook now and then. But no more noise.
Torn between possibilities, she stood there. The poor shutter probably finally blew off. That meant hunting it down tomorrow and reattaching it, properly this time. Even as the rationale hung in her mind her unease increased. The slow churning of dread deep in her stomach spun faster. Yeah, she'd lived through paralyzing anxiety before and knew the sensation never led her wrong.
She turned back toward the family room and saw him. It whatever. Big and looming and shadowed. Without thinking, she took off in a sprint in the opposite direction. Her feet tapped against the floor as she broke for the bedroom. For the gun and the phone. She'd use the lamp as a weapon if she had to. Anything to survive.
Footsteps thundered behind her, louder and faster. Just as she hit the doorway a hand fell on her shoulder. Fingers clenched against her pajama top and dragged it and her backward. She landed with a thump against a solid mass.
"Listen to me." The deep voice vibrated as he whispered.
"No." She scratched and clawed. "Let go!"
She wound up for the most deafening scream of her life, but it choked off in her throat when his hand landed on her mouth. "Lindsey, stop."
In the haze she didn't recognize the voice. Didn't matter if she did. Forget that he knew her name. This person broke in. She had to get him out or take him down. Those were the only two options. She would not be a victim again.
"Lindsey, it's me." He pulled her in tighter against him, banding an arm around her middle and trapping her legs with one of his.
"Get out," she screamed, but the words got muffled against his palm.
She went with biting. Clamped down hard on the fleshy part of his hand and heard him swear as he jerked back. His arm loosened and she scrambled away. She couldn't get the bedroom door shut, but she could get to that lockbox.
Her heartbeat hammered in her ears as her fingers fumbled with the drawer pull. She'd barely opened it when the attacker knocked her back on the mattress. She flailed, kicking out, trying to land a punch or a hit, or anything that would slow him down or double him over.
Adrenaline pumped through her. Between the race down the hall and the fear pulling at her, she should be exhausted. Instead, energy pulsed through her. She believed she could lift the house, if needed. But first she had to move this guy.
She shoved a knee deep between his legs, but he reached down and caught the shot just in time. With her head shifting on the bed and her body in constant motion, she could barely see. All of her focus went into thinking and moving.
"Lindsey, it's Hank."
His frustration hit her. The words took another second. She maintained her tight grip on his wrist as she looked up. Her gaze went to the broad shoulders and coal-black hair. Those intense dark eyes.
Recognition struck. Right, Hank something. He was the new handyman, the gofer, whatever his real title, for the New Foundations Retreat. The place she hated most but could not escape.
If he thought letting her make that connection in her mind would make it easier to accept his presence, he was dead wrong. She put anyone affiliated with New Foundations in the "never trust" category. The scruffy rough-and-tumble look would not get him off that list, especially now.
She bucked her hips, trying to knock him off balance. "Get off."
When that failed, panic rolled through her. His weight anchored her to the bed, which left her few options.
"You need to listen," he said in a harsh whisper.
"No." She tried to wiggle her wrist free so she could scratch. If he'd put just a bit of space between their locked bodies, she would knee him hard enough to send him rolling on the floor.
Lightning lit up the room and a crack of thunder came right behind. She remembered childhood tales about the time between them having something to do with the distance you were from the storm. Probably hog-wash, but she needed something mindless to block the blinding fear.
He touched her cheek and moved her head until she faced him. He stared down, as if willing her to believe. "Men are coming."
With that her body froze. "What?"
"Some people at New Foundations want to talk to you and I don't think they care if you want to listen."
A new wave of desperation hit her. Maybe he was there to warn her. Maybe he was there to help whoever was coming, if that threat was even true. Didn't matter, because she refused to stick around and see.
Inhaling and trying to calm her breathing, she didn't flinch away from his touch or try to get away. For a few seconds she put all her energy into convincing him. "I have to get out of here."
"I need to keep you safe." He nodded as the grip on her wrists eased. "That's why I'm here."
He broke in and scared the hell out of her. Those facts kept running through her mind and pushing out everything else. "You're one of them."
"Lindsey, no." He shook his head. "I am not here to hurt you."
The calm tone. The orders delivered in an even cadence. She'd experienced it all before, sometimes from well-meaning folks who promised they would help. But those other times weighed on her, had her skepticism snapping. "Why should I believe you?"
"Wish I had a good answer for that, but I don't." He hesitated and then lifted off her, inch by inch, until he balanced on his knees, straddling her. One quick glance down between his legs and he shifted to kneel to the side of her. "I'm only a few steps in front of them."
She'd never been one to get dizzy or faint. Not her style at all, but the oxygen seeped out of her until the room spun and bile raced up her throat. "Let me slip out the back."
"Would never work." He held up his hands as he stepped off the mattress and stood in front of her. "They need to think you're with me."
She jackknifed into a sitting position, ready to make a second grab for the nightstand depending on what he said next. "What?"
That was never going to happen. Not for him. Not for anyone. Those days were long gone for her. "No way."
She barely got the words out before a crack sounded at the front of the house. A new surge of fear whipped through her.
He glanced behind him as he kept that hand out, gesturing for her to stay down. "Do not move."
From the bed? That wasn't happening either. "I will kill you first."
"And that would be your right if I tried to hurt you, but I won't." The words sounded good, but he started unbuttoning his shirt.
"What are you doing?" But she knew. Knew and would throw every single thing in the room at him, nailed down or not.
He left his blue long-sleeve shirt open over a T-shirt and reached for his belt. A few quick moves and he had the zipper down and the jeans on the floor. "Making it believable."
Her hand inched toward the lamp. The heavy base right to his skull might stop him. "Okay."
But he didn't come at her in his boxer briefs. He bent down and slipped something out of a gun. With a touch of a finger to his lips he turned toward the doorway.
"Who's there?" His deep voice echoed down the hall.
She had no idea what was happening. Shadows moved outside her window. She assumed branches, but she didn't know. Everything blended together and morphed until the walls pounded in on her.
He kicked off his shoes and stepped into the hallway. The floorboards creaked under his weight.
She thought about diving out the window but had no idea what lurked out there. Forcing her mind to focus, she grabbed for the nightstand drawer. Punched in the lock code and had the gun loaded and in her hand as she crept out behind Hank.
"I am not going to let you touch my girlfriend." He kept his back against the wall as he slid farther down the hall toward the family room. "Leave now and this ends fine."
My girlfriend? Her mind stuck there and refused to unstick. The most she could do was stand up and get to the bedroom doorway.
She stopped in time to see the collision. Hank took one more step and a body smashed into him. She aimed her gun, but only darkness greeted her. The two men were locked in battle, rolling like a ball across her floor. She heard grunts and saw arms rise and fall. One back thumped against the hallway wall, then another.
Lightning flashed and she saw blond hair and a dark jacket. She didn't recognize the intruder. Only Hank. She could make him out as he landed punch after punch against the blond's jaw.
Thunder boomed and then an eerie quiet fell over the back of the house. The men tumbled as they slipped out of sight. Something fell to the floor with a crash, but the usual buzz of the lights and hum of the refrigerator had stopped. She reached out and flicked the switch by her head, but nothing happened. Either the storm knocked out the power or a group of men outside her home did. She hated both options.
Gripping the gun, she stepped into the hall and tried to make out one figure from the other. She didn't know Hank and didn't owe him anything, but he could have dragged her outside and handed her to the blond. He hadn't, and the confusion from that kept her from shooting him now.
But she could see shapes. Hank had the blond on the floor. Hank's legs pinned the guy, and an arm hooked around his neck. Looked to her as though her make-believe boyfriend had this one won. Nothing about that realization had her relaxing.
The scuffle continued. The blond's heels smacked against the floor. The battle seemed to be dying down until another figure stepped into the far end of the hall opposite her. Her insides chilled and her body shook hard enough for her teeth to rattle. She couldn't make out his face but got the impression he was staring at her. Waiting.
One swing of his arm and he knocked Hank's head into the wall. She aimed, ready to fire at anyone who came toward her. But the newest man reached down and dragged the blond to his feet. Then they were gone.
She stood there, unable to think. Unable to breathe.
"Lindsey?" Hank stumbled to his feet as he scooped his gun off the floor. "You okay?"
His voice snapped her out of her stupor. She reached inside her bedroom and ripped the emergency flashlight out of the socket, then grabbed the second one she kept just inside the bathroom door.
She fumbled to hold them both in one hand and aimed them in Hank's direction. He blinked as he rubbed one hand over the back of his head. The other one, the one with the weapon, dropped to his side.
His gaze traveled over her, and then he frowned. "Where did you get a gun?"
Not exactly the response she'd expected, but until he asked she forgot she held it. "It's mine."
"Maybe you could lower it."
She wanted to ask if he was okay. After all, unless he'd put on some great show, he'd just saved her from two intruders storming in and taking her away. But that wasn't where her mind went. "Who are you?"
At first she didn't think he heard her. He walked through the small house. Checked the front door. Looked outside.
He finally turned back to her. "You should think of me as Hank Fletcher. A handyman who blew into town looking for work. We met, started dating and now I'm at your house most nights."
Wrong answer, and that was before she got to the boyfriend thing. She ignored that part completely. "But that's not who you are."
At least he didn't lie or try to shrug her off. But she still wanted an answer. "Tell me or the gun stays up."
He leaned against the armrest of her couch. "Holt Kingston, undercover with the Corcoran Team, and right now the best hope you have of not being dragged up to the compound and questioned."
She had no idea what any of that meant but grabbed on to the "undercover" part and hoped that stood for police or law enforcement. Really, anyone with a gun and some authority who could help.
Going further, the idea of trusting him even the slightest bit brought her common sense to a screeching halt. But as much as it grated, there was something about him. It had been that way from the beginning. She'd seen him in town and driving the New Foundations truck and she couldn't stop watching. She chalked the reaction up to being cautious, but what she was thinking of doing right now, letting him in if only an inch, struck her as reckless.
Even now, standing there in his underwear, with this massive chest and well, everything looked pretty big. Still, the fear that had gripped her body and held it to that spot in the hall eased away. Tension buzzed through the room, but the panic had subsided.
Ignoring the warning bells dinging in her head, she verbally reached out. "So, you know New Foundations is a cult."
"Oh, Lindsey." He shook his head. "It's worse than that. So much more dangerous and threatening."
At least he understood that much about the place that starred in her nightmares. That was more than her father ever understood. "Okay, then."
His shoulders dropped a little, as if the tension stiffening them had ratcheted down. "So, we're good?"
No way was she going that far. Not yet. Probably not ever. "Let's just say I'm willing to hear you out."
"That's all I'm asking."
She let the hand with the gun drop to her side but didn't let go. "Talk fast."