SNEAK PEEK

RESCUING ROYCE

BOOK TWO in the RESCUED BY LOVE SERIES

AVAILABLE IN THE UPCOMING Happily Ever After: A Contemporary Romance Boxed Set releasing Jan 12, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRE-ORDER HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Hey, Royce. My man. What are you doing back in Pineville? It’s good to see you.”

Royce Kincaid looked over his shoulder at the sound of his name, all the while remaining on alert to his surroundings. Tonight, he was on unofficial bouncer duty at his sister’s nightclub. His “day job” was as a member of the local SWAT. His superiors weren’t thrilled with his off-duty moonlighting, but he wasn’t breaking any rules and if ever there was a night his twin sister needed him—it was tonight.

 The last thing he needed or wanted was a trip down memory lane.

He shifted his gaze back to the bar and swore. Much to his irritation, his gaze had been glued to a pair of legs attached to the untouchable Amber Wyatt. He’d been battling the urge all evening to warn away every guy who dared to approach the one woman he himself wanted yet forced himself to stay away from.

Untouchable. By his own decree. It was driving him nuts to see men, not unlike him, drawn to her with similar if not the exact intent as him.

The Club and attached restaurant was the most popular nightspot in Pineville, and Reese had organized the private party for the Idaho Outlaws to celebrate winning the United States Baseball League’s championship.

It was the first time in the ball club’s short history, and since her boyfriend, Connor Holt, played for the team and happened to be one of Royce’s closest friends, it was the perfect place to hold the private event. There was no question he’d help out when he could.

The guy who’d shouted his name walked unsteadily over to him with the distinct gait of someone already deep into the bottle. Hell, he knew the face but couldn’t remember the name. Shit. The guy had bad news flashing in neon over his head. What was the guy’s name; Ted, Tanner, something with a T?

Unfortunately, he didn’t have a choice to ignore anyone tonight. Everyone at the closed-door event had been invited, but that didn’t guarantee zero problems. Royce always anticipated the unexpected. It was in his job description. He’d make sure no one would ruin the evening for the Outlaws’ baseball team or his sister.

“Hey, back.” Royce nodded, but continued to scan the growing crowd. Reese had already scolded him once for staring down another partygoer till the guy almost tripped. Well, too bad. He never turned off his inner radar for trouble. As a member of Pineville SWAT, he rarely allowed himself downtime; unless that downtime was horizontal and involved a curvy female.

Ten years on the force had ingrained habits in him that were hard to break, especially off duty.

“You been hitting the gym, man, you’re ripped.”

Drunk-guy was now slurring his words, awesome. Royce controlled the urge to roll his eyes. Most of the people in his circle growing up weren’t in his circle now, and he liked that way.

Plus, the last thing he wanted was to reminisce about the stupid crap he and his friends did back in the day. What he wanted was sitting by herself at the bar in a dress that ignited an itch in him to caress every curve the thin material hugged.

He’d already had to count to twenty–twice, whenever he caught a glimpse of Amber Wyatt’s legs. She was maybe a few inches shorter than his own six-one, and he loved a tall woman with curves. And damn if she didn’t have legs for days. Legs, he wanted wrapped around his waist as he pounded into her.

The object of his current desire was connected to his sister’s friends’ group, and that meant he needed to be careful. He’d held off pursuing her the few times they were at one of the Outlaws games or a dinner party. His patience was being tested as was his sudden streak of abstinence. He didn’t connect it to his desire for Amber, but he found himself comparing any woman he thought about hooking up with to her. The last few months had been the longest he’d gone without taking a woman to bed since his early twenties, but he couldn’t deny that she was the only one who managed to get him hard lately simply by being in the same room.

 And if Reese found out he was thinking about bedding Amber, she’d start lecturing him again about his tomcat ways. Or, her favorite lecture, ‘wasn’t it time you picked one woman and worked on “real” relationship?’ Shit, no, thank you.

Yeah, his sister was undoubtedly aware of his love-em-and-leave-em history, but she didn’t know everything. Thankfully, they didn’t have any weird twin connection where they could read each other’s thoughts or whatever.  Because Royce’s needs weren’t for every woman. However, he was happy to accommodate the ones who were as hungry as he for intense sex without any strings. And he was more than happy to play out their cop fantasy for a night. But that’s as long as he stuck around.

Amber didn’t give off that vibe, but it didn’t stop him from thinking how he could separate her from her clothes whenever he saw her. And that had been often since he came back to town. And tonight, she was a damn distraction he didn’t need. Yet that didn’t keep him from looking. Hell, looking never hurt.

Thinking of her again had him gazing in her direction. Dammit, he was setting himself up for disappointment and a shitload of frustration. Nothing would happen between them, not tonight. Just as he was going to turn back to Tyson, who hadn’t stopped his yammering, Royce caught Amber look in his direction. Not only in his direction but at him point-blank. Pent up sexual desire punched him square in the chest.

Her gaze was full of all the things he’d wanted to do to her, and he almost forgot to breathe when she didn’t turn away. She held his gaze. Her directness threw him off. He’d pegged her for a ‘good girl’ and never expected she’d be the pursuer.

Why was he hesitating? He always went after what, and who he wanted at full speed. Always had. But this time felt… different. Could it be that he’d been thinking her as off-limits for so long that he’d given up the notion they might ever hook-up?

Damn if she wasn’t sending him an invitation. She looked down at her drink then back up at him and smiled again before she turned away. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d questioned an unmistakable signal from a woman. He was letting her connection to his sister play with his head. Well, screw that.

Distractions should be addressed, right? They’d only had a few short interactions and he’d always behaved since his sister was typically around. But she wasn’t now. And what was the harm in a little verbal foreplay? Hell, it would tell him once and for all if he should shut down his thoughts about her or offer her a night, they’d both walk away from satisfied; his curiosity and need for her put to rest. Then maybe get back to his normal routine.

She looked over her shoulder and locked eyes with him as if daring him. He never backed down from a dare.

Unaware he’d taken a step toward Amber, the man he’d quickly forgotten about blocked him.

“Royce? Hey man, there are a ton of sweet things here for the taking. You pick one out yet?”

Reason number one he hadn’t looked up old friends stood next to him. Tyson. Yes, thank god, that was it. That was drunk-guy’s name. Memories flooded him, and he remembered who the d-bag was, Tyson Brown. In high school, Tyson often took before given permission by girls who’d had too much to drink. Royce may have walked that line once, but he’d wised up. A willing woman was much more satisfying.

Unimpressed, Royce watched as Tyson puffed out his puny chest, and scanned the crowd.

“So, what’s your gig now? You seem a bit more, what’s the word am I looking for? You’re not as… I don’t know, relaxed or whatever. You were always looking for a good time when we ruled the streets, man. What happened to you?”

He looked back in Amber’s direction and noticed several rookie baseball players had walked over to her. A shot of something he didn’t recognize landed in his gut. He didn’t like it, nor what the feeling likely represented.

He wasn’t a jealous guy, so he took the unfamiliar anger of seeing other guys hit on the woman he wanted and turned and dumped it all over Tyson. Royce felt just mean enough to yank the jerk’s chain with a healthy dose of truth.

“I left Pineville and grew up for starters. I’m past the sweet young thing phase, and you should be too. Hell, you plan on partying forever? And as far as my “gig,” I joined the police force in Dallas, worked my way up, and landed in SWAT here in Pineville. So, keep it in your pants and go easy on the whiskey. That used to be your thing, right?” Royce flexed his fingers and took in a breath. He didn’t want a fight; just needed to let out a little steam.

“Damn. You used to always be up for a party, and any girl you could separate from her panties. You changed man.” Tyson drained his glass and wiped his face with the back of his hand.

Yeah, his high school friends were full of class. Shit. He hoped Tyson behaved. The last thing he wanted to do was haul his ass in.

“Well, you have fun bouncing or whatever it is your sister’s paying you to do. I’m headed for some prime tail. See ya.”

Royce slammed his arm up and into Tyson’s chest. He locked eyes with the drunk, “Like I said, keep it in your pants, and we’ll be good. You got it?”

Tyson’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and a sheen of sweat appeared on his hawkish face. Royce kept him locked in place. Training kicked in, it always did, and he softened his voice even though he wanted to growl. “You keep it nice and polite. This is not the night and definitely not the place to cause trouble. You understand?”

Licking his lips, Tyson scanned the crowd behind Royce’s back.

“No backup, Tyson?” Royce asked.

Tyson visibly shook. “No. I’m by myself. And hey, I was just teasing, ya know. Don’t worry, man. I’m good.”

Royce let a good thirty seconds pass before he dropped his arm. He caught the distinction between Tyson saying, ‘I’m good’ and ‘I’ll be good.’

Shit. It was going to be a long night.

 

###

“Hi, Amber. So glad you could make it.” Reese joined her at the bar.

Amber set her drink down. Reese had become one of her good friends over the past year, but she was also the sister, fraternal twin to be precise, of the man she secretly craved. Awkward.

“Hi, Reese. Thanks. Caris made sure I knew I was invited. Actually, I think she has ulterior motives. She’s been bugging me to go out since I dumped the last guy I dated.”

Amber had a habit of talking too much when she was nervous. She looked around to see if Royce was still looking at her. Disappointment hit her when she couldn’t find him.

“Aw, Caris means well. And I get it. Happy friends always want everyone else to experience the happiness their living. And it seems you’re it now that all of us have a special guy. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to wave off any men who don’t live up to our standards, K?” Reese scanned the crowd then waved.

“Hey, speaking of men, my man is signaling me. If you see someone you want an intro to you, find me. I know everyone.”

Amber watched Reese rush over to her boyfriend, Connor and wrap her arms around his neck. Their kiss was hot and long, and he grabbed her ass for everyone to see. Amber wanted that. She wanted hot and hard and everything she never got from her ex.

And for that she wanted Royce Kincaid. Hot cop and decorated member of the local SWAT, he was the only one she wanted to give her the hot and hard part. He had a reputation for his prowess in bed. He also had the reputation of one night and done; or so it was rumored. But she didn’t want the rumor–she wanted the man.

She wanted a man who could handle her need for edgier sex, the kind where her partner wouldn’t stop until she exploded-half-a-dozen-times-sex. Yup, she wanted what the rumors about Royce proclaimed.

Except she had one tiny little problem. Amber had never shared that need with any of her previous boyfriends. Men always treated her like she was a good girl; like she might break at the slightest amount of pressure. It was her own fault. She hadn’t spoken up before and asked for what she wanted. In bed or out. But that was going to end.

Tonight.

She hoped.

With Royce. The man she should stay away from, but who checked off each and every one of her deepest desires. And she was still working on the courage part. She signaled the bartender for another drink. He nodded and took down a clean glass and began to mix it when she felt someone take the seat Reese had vacated.

She knew it wasn’t going to be who she wanted and prepared a polite turndown.

“Come here often?”

The words were followed by a cloud of Jameson and a sweaty hand in her face.

“Tyson Brown. Ty to my friends. Wanna be my friend?”

Amber cringed at the awful line and the accompanying leer. Why did she always attract the creeps?

“Um, I’m waiting for someone. But uh, it was nice to meet you.” She turned to face toward the crush of people celebrating on the dance floor.

“Someone, huh? Yeah, right. Look, I’ve been watching. You’ve turned down like what, three other guys. You got a problem or something?”

Ty’s voice had risen, and it was laced with barely controlled anger. She spotted Reese dancing with Connor, but the noise level was too loud. She knew if she called out, her voice would be swallowed up by the crowd.

“Look, I’m serious. Why else would I turn down those other guys if I wasn’t waiting for someone?” She offered the best smile could muster.

“Nice story. You tell that to the other losers too?” Ty rubbed his face.

He let out a weird laugh. “Sorry. Man, I just really wanted to meet you. You’re the hottest girl in here, and you know it’s kinda strange you’re sitting here all alone, unless… well, you know.”

“No, I don’t.” She was afraid to hear his reasoning.

He leaned in close. Too close for comfort, and she automatically leaned back as another whiff of whiskey made her gag.

“Hey, I’m not gonna bite.” He growled. “Unless you want me to.”

Nope. She didn’t. She was saving that for someone else. Someone, not him. “I think you have me confused with someone else.” Amber stood up, intent on finding anyone she knew.

Ty jumped off his chair and leaned into her and grabbed her arm.

“Ow! What are you doing, asshole? That hurts. Let me go.” She tried to shake his hold, but he didn’t budge.

“You think you’re too good for me? I’d have you begging for more after the first round. And then I’d–”

“Hey, Amber, I heard you were here. The gang’s looking for you. They’re all over in the VIP section.”

Maverick Jansen, the star pitcher of the Outlaws, stood behind Tyson. She offered him a smile of gratitude and nodded. Then she looked down at the hand wrapped around her arm and back up into Ty’s face.

What she found sent shivers down her spine. For a split second, she saw evil, then he blinked, and the cruelty was gone.

“This guy bothering you?” Maverick stepped from behind Ty and stood by her side.

She let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding as Ty let go of her arm and offered it to Maverick. “Hey, man. Great game. Congratulations on the championship.”

Maverick didn’t acknowledge Ty other than to cross his arms and glare at the now sweating man. “Amber, you okay?”

“Y-yes. He was just leaving. He thought I was someone else, isn’t that right?”

Still too close for her peace of mind, Amber shifted away from Ty but not before his whispered words reached her.

“Saved by the bell. Catch you next time. Amber,” Tyson whispered and walked away.

Amber and Maverick watched the king of creeps disappear into the crowd. She turned to Maverick, “Thank you. He wasn’t taking no for an answer.”

“You sure you’re okay?” Maverick was looking at her arm.

She glanced down at the slowly darkening skin and rubbed. “Yeah, he was drunk. I’ve never seen him before, and he was convinced I was blowing him off. And I was, but…”

“No, buts. Some guys can’t handle no, even when it’s a polite no. Next time be more of a bitch. Dump your drink in his lap. Hell, anything to cause a scene, okay?”

Amber nodded then looked behind Maverick and locked eyes with Royce. He was standing behind the railing to the dance floor. She could tell that he’d seen what happened. He was gripping the metal bar, his knuckles white.

She swore she could feel his anger across the room. He gave her a slight nod and pushed off the railing and went in the direction of the now vanished Tyson.

She let out a sigh as she watched his backside disappear into the crowd. The man exuded power and protection. What she wouldn’t give for a chance to wrap herself around all that muscle and hard angles.

She heard Maverick speaking, but what he was saying didn’t register. Still shook up from her encounter, she wanted… what? She wasn’t sure now about approaching Royce tonight. Maybe she should leave and treat herself to half a pint of salted caramel ice cream and stream a movie and rethink how to hook up with Royce.

She looked back to where she last saw him and noticed he was now speaking to one of the security guards Reese had on staff. Amber took the opportunity to observe him unnoticed and long enough to admire his strong jawline, broad shoulders, and toned body. She sighed and turned back to Maverick.

“Amber? You with me, hon?” Maverick turned around to where she was looking, then chuckled, “Now, that’s someone you need to stay away from. He’s a nice guy, but definitely not in your league.”

“Why don’t you come hang with us?” He motioned to where the rest of his friends and his wife, Kelsey had gathered. “And we’ll see what we can do about finding someone in between creepy guy and commitment-phobia guy. What do you say?”

Boy, had she’d been that obvious? I guess staring at a man across the room wasn’t exactly subtle behavior, but still–ouch. “And what exactly does that mean? You think after what just happened, I’m not capable of choosing the right guy to be with?”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. It’s just he’s not known for anything long term. A bit like me, I guess, before I found Kelsey, but he’s not your type, Amber. You need someone like–”

Oh no he just didn’t. “Like who? The calm, boring type that a good girl like me deserves? Well, the hell with that. I’ve had my fill of those men, and no thank you.” Wow, Amber. Where’d that come from?

“Okay, let me rephrase. Royce is a great guy, but he’s got a broken heart list longer than mine ever was. You deserve someone, well you just deserve a guy who’ll last, ya know? So, what do you say? Come join us. I know Kelsey and the rest of the ladies want you too.”

Amber felt about two inches tall. She didn’t have a temper, but obviously Maverick had hit a nerve. And she wanted nothing more than to catch up with everyone as she hadn’t seen them since Noel and TS’ baby shower for their son, Carson.

“I say, thank you, Mav. And for the record, I wouldn’t have shot you. I know you’re only looking out for me. Besides, I don’t want Kelsey hunting me down to the ends of the earth for payback.” Amber grinned then let out a laugh.

She followed Maverick to the VIP area, but not before she looked back for another peek. Yeah, he probably wasn’t someone she should pursue, but damn he made her want things she’d only fantasized about. But as much as she wanted him, she also wanted more than just one night. She wasn’t built for one-night stands.

She tried to put her feelings and her body’s desire for Royce on the back burner, but she had a distinct feeling she’d be a failure at both.

###

 

Royce downed a bottle of water. It did little to cool him down as he watched Amber escape the close call with Tyson. He’d thought about going over himself, thankfully Maverick stepped in quick, because he knew he’d end up burying his fist in the jerk’s face. His sister didn’t need that kind of publicity. Neither did he.

So, for the next hour, he made sure Tyson didn’t circle around and try for another shot at Amber. She stayed in the VIP section and was surrounded by Reese, Connor, and her boss, Caris, who was married to the Outlaw’s Manager, Blake Anderson. The group also included the rest of their tight circle of friends, their wives, and girlfriends.

He relaxed, knowing none of the players would let anything or anyone bother her again tonight. He roamed the outer perimeter of the dance floor and tried to put Amber’s face and her body out of his head. He wanted her, but it was laced with something different; something new. He’d desired other women sure, but with her, it was… maddening.

When he looked at her, he saw more than someone to hook up with.

Hell, he hadn’t even spoken to her more than polite greetings, and small talk, so why he was contemplating some kind of future where they could make it work beyond a quick slap and tickle?

“Royce, you look stressed. What’s up?” His sister offered him a soft drink. “Anything I need to know about?”

He could tell her the cliff note version, but knowing Reese, she might pick up on his personal interest in Amber. He’d barely admitted to himself, let alone his sister, that what he was feeling for the curvy office manager went beyond pure lust.

Maybe his interest in Amber was simply because she seemed to always be around. In his real life, not the after dark quest for a hard and fast release where the women understood he was a one-time deal?

For whatever reason, when he looked at Amber, he sensed there was potential. And that was more dangerous than any perp with a knife in one hand and a revolver in the other during a twelve-hour standoff.

Royce remained silent and looked over to where Amber had been sitting earlier. The group had pretty much dispersed, but Connor, Maverick, and Luke, the team’s catcher, were kicked back sharing one last drink. Who could blame them for wanting to keep the celebration going? They’d earned it.

“Hey, c’mon what’s bugging you? You forget I know how to read you. And it has nothing to do with missing a stupid workout. Is it a woman? No, don’t tell me. It’s probably two women. Decisions, decisions, right?”

“No, everything’s good. And yes, I skipped my usual trip to the gym this morning. You know how I get cranky if I can’t punch something.”

“Hmm… so no, ‘stay out of my business, sis?’ What’s really going on?” Reese laid her head on his shoulder. “You know I’m a great listener.”

Royce was almost ready to spill some of his dilemma and he’d keep Amber’s name out of it, but as he opened his mouth, a kid in his early twenties burst through the main entrance. He gasped for a breath, and held up his arm, pointing behind him, “Hey, some guy has a girl… he’s got a gun… outside…somebody call 911.”

Royce strode over to the kid. “Where?”

“Down the street, next to the empty lot, the…the one they turned into a mini park… he dragged her towards the alley. Man is she screaming.”

Reese laid a hand on Royce’s arm, “I’ve got dispatch on the line now, they said they already received another call.”

“Keep everyone inside, lock the door behind me.” Royce ran toward the entrance and turned back to his sister. “No one, Reese. No one leaves until the PD calls all clear.”

“Wait! You’re not armed.”

“You sure about that, sis?” Royce lifted his pant leg and retrieved his Glock-27 from his ankle holster. He pushed through the door, sprinted across the street, and kept to the inside of the sidewalk. He ran down Main all the way to the corner. Muffled screaming reached him. Then the sound of a man yelling out in pain.

Sirens roared in the distance. Too far, he calculated; he needed to act–now. He made his way along the building next to the park and hooked a right into the open space. Empty. A lone streetlight illuminated the area. It didn’t quite do its job. He crept along the building, his Glock at the ready. When he reached the end of the wall as it met the alleyway, he stopped and listened.

“You just couldn’t listen, could you bitch? You had to scream.”

A muffled response. Royce couldn’t make out the words, but knew it was a woman.

“All I wanted was some fun. But nope, you didn’t want to play. Well, now we’re both in trouble. Stop it! Ow!”

The kidnapper’s voice sounded familiar… Shit, he knew that whiny tone.

Fuck, it was Tyson.

Royce edged around the corner, gun steady, and took a look. Tyson was holding the woman against the building, maybe twenty feet away. Tyson’s left hand covered her mouth, his right held a gun under her chin. And he was shaking his left leg.

Looked like he’d been kicked.

Good for her, she fought back. The move may have saved her life.

Royce returned to his position and turned the safety off.  When he stepped out fully into the alley, Tyson continued to spit curse words at his captive. But the woman must have caught his movement. She turned her head toward him. Eyes wide in fear, she blinked rapidly then slammed them shut when Tyson pressed his nose into her cheek.

Amber.

Shit! Goddammit. His heart stopped for a beat then started back up, pounding the crap out of his chest. He’d never once been in a situation on the job where he knew the victim. Goddammit.

Seeing Amber shoved up against the fucking wall with a gun in her face fueled his anger. He wished he could tear the scumbag apart with his bare hands. Instead, he took a deep breath and centered himself and remembered protocol, then dismissed protocol. Screw it.

Time was his second enemy, and as much as he’d relish beating Tyson to a pulp, he’d settle for shooting him in the leg. A headshot clearly wasn’t an option with how he was currently holding onto Amber.

Amber’s eyes flashed open again. Royce held her frightened gaze and willed her to calm. She gave a slight nod.

Tyson followed Amber’s gaze. “Fuck!” He whirled Amber in front of him and used her as a shield.

Gravel sprayed into the air, and Amber stumbled and let out a whimper.

Her cry wrapped around Royce’s heart and refused to let go. “Pretty pathetic using a woman to protect yourself. Let her go, Tyson, and you won’t get hurt. That’s the only and last promise I’m making you.”

Tyson let out another string of curses and pulled Amber closer into his body. “Back off, Royce. You’re not on duty, man, and your SWAT buddies are nowhere in sight.”

As if on cue, the sounds of sirens increased. The air filled with the screeching of tires and shouts of officers.

“You were saying, dickhead?” Royce aimed his gun low and to the left of Amber’s body. “I’m sure the local PD will back me up. So, do yourself a favor and let her go. The longer you drag this out, the more trouble you’ll be in.”

“Bullshit. We both know I’m going down. I’ve already got a felony on my belt, man. So, maybe I should have a little fun first, huh? Cause I don’t think you’re going to shoot an old friend. You don’t have it in you. Not Royce Kincaid, the pillar of Pineville.”

That’s right keep talking dickhead. The more Tyson rattled on, the better Amber’s chances of coming out unhurt became. “What in the Hell are you talking about? I’m not the pillar of anything. Just doing my job, asshole.”

“Screw you! You think because you’re the law now that people don’t remember? Everyone knows how you messed up plenty in high school.” Tyson stepped backward, dragging Amber with him.

“I think you’re confusing me with yourself. And you’re running out of time old friend.” Royce matched each step Tyson took. He held out a hand when the first responding office rounded the corner. “I got this.” And he did. No one was taking Tyson down but him.

Another screech of tires erupted as two squad cars blocked the exit to the alleyway behind Tyson. He wasn’t going anywhere. Question was, would he go down injuring himself or worse, Amber?

Tyson’s eyes were darting between Royce and the officer behind him. Royce was almost out of time. He needed to act. Sweat was pouring off Tyson’s brow, and the hand holding the gun to Amber’s chin had begun to shake. Shit, he was probably on something besides the whiskey he’d been downing all night.

“Let her go, Ty. You’re hurting her.” Royce kept his tone even as he crept closer. When he was within ten feet, he stopped. He let his gaze roam over Amber and checked to see if she was bleeding.

Tyson moved his arm up and wrapped it around her throat.

Royce grimaced as he watched Amber struggle to push Tyson off. He almost lost it when she began to gasp for breath.

“Hurting her? Christ, she’s fine. So fine.” Tyson shouted. He bent down and whispered something in Amber’s ear. She cringed and kicked out. Her leg missed, but it gave Royce the opportunity he needed. Tyson moved his lower body out of the way, opening himself up as the perfect target.

Royce nodded as Amber’s gaze met his again, and mouthed the words, “lean to the left–you’ll be okay.” He couldn’t wait to see if she understood; he aimed his gun and fired.

The bullet found its home in Tyson’s upper right thigh. He screamed, let go of Amber, and dropped the gun as he reached down to cover his wound.

She fell to the side and scrambled backward, slamming her back into the brick wall. Royce ran toward her, the officer behind him descended on Tyson as several officers raced from the end of the alley.

It was over.

He crouched down in front of Amber and pulled her into his arms. “You okay, sweetheart? It’s over. He won’t ever hurt you again.”

She nodded, closed her eyes, and wept. Royce cradled her to his chest. Her body shook as she sobbed and buried her head into the crook of his neck. They stayed that way for a long time. He didn’t let go until someone tapped his shoulder. EMS wanted to check her out, and then they needed her to go to headquarters. They needed him as well, but not together.

“Let me know if you need anything, okay? Reese has my number.”

Amber lifted her chin and wiped away a single tear. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. She slammed her body into his and held on tight. A muffled, ‘thank you’ vibrated against his chest. Another minute passed before she let go and allowed the emergency tech to walk her to the waiting ambulance.

His heart continued to pound; in fact, it hadn’t stopped pounding since he realized she was the one in danger. Someone he cared for had been victimized, and he’d never be the same again. The fact that just tonight he realized he had feelings for her was not lost in the moment. Dammit, why hadn’t he done more earlier? He should have made sure Tyson had been given a ride home. He wasn’t sure he’d ever forget the horror-filled desperation in Amber’s eyes.

Royce knew it would take a long time before he could breathe easily again. The rage he experienced as he watched Tyson put his hands upon Amber, … Fuuuuck. Lord, he wasn’t sure he’d ever get over the helplessness he felt as he silently promised Amber everything would be okay before he pulled the trigger.

But now it would be someone else’s job to comfort her. Royce had done what he’d been trained to do. And now he needed to put away the unexpected feelings he never thought he’d experience for a woman. And next, he needed to make sure Tyson wouldn’t being seeing daylight anytime soon. He’d have to wait to satisfy his need to further comfort Amber and took solace in knowing she had a close-knit group of friends to be there for her.

But that didn’t keep him from wishing he’d be the one she could turn to when she returned home.

PRE-ORDER HERE

JANUARY 12, 2021