A Shot of Courage
Kink and wedding vows can’t stop danger
but love gives a Dom and his sub
courage to fight.
After too much time apart from his lover and sub, Brian Harrison is thinking kink, a cowboy hat, and one more marriage proposal. When Jackie Vasquez finally says “yes” to a wedding, he also says, “why wait?” But their vows and the toasts to the happy couple have hardly faded when a phone call reminds them that trouble still awaits.
Despite his best intentions, Brian broke the law in his efforts to stop a powerful criminal from harming those he loves. He could go to prison, or he could risk his life going undercover to help bring one of Europe’s most nefarious citizens to justice. Friends and smart thinking can help him do the right thing. But only love can supply the courage he and Jackie need to prevail against schemes and guns and, if they’re lucky, stay alive to enjoy a honeymoon.
An Exclusive Excerpt:
For Brian, Jackie’s unfaltering love and a quiet session showing him how beautiful he was in ropes had resulted in a settled mind and a good night’s sleep. By the time he sat at the table with his early morning coffee, though, he was worried again. His anxiety had taken a new tone. One good thing: Jackie loved him. Bad things: he was in trouble with the law and on mandatory leave from his job. The worst thing — or so it seemed at the moment: Luki probably didn’t trust him anymore, and he still hadn’t told him everything.
Jackie had gone out already, wanting to check in at school and with Dr. Holland, and maybe see Esi. Brian hadn’t wanted him to go, but Jackie understood the risks, and he was all grown up, and neither love nor Dominance, nor even marriage gave him the right to keep him from making up his own mind. He listened to Brian’s pleas to “be careful, don’t go places alone, and if you see something or someone that seems wrong, call me or the cops, depending.” And then he kissed Brian, said, “I’ll be careful,” and left.
As a result, when Luki arrived in LA and came up to the apartment, Brian was home alone.
He sat down on the couch looking exhausted. Brian felt bad, knowing he was about to lay some more trouble on him, but he was determined. He made coffee, poured two cups, and said. “Luki, there’s more. I meant to tell you all of it, but… well, I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t happen.”
Luki looked at him either forbiddingly or inquiringly — Brian wasn’t sure which.
“I’ve agreed to… work for Vintner.” Tempted to go on and pour out the whole story, Brian swallowed down the flood of words and guilt, and waited for Luki’s initial response.
Luki barely reacted. An eyebrow went up, and clearly gears were turning, but he didn’t ice down, and he didn’t snap. He didn’t even make one of his snarky comments. After a moment, he said, “I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t take that statement at face value.”
“Uh, well, there is more to it, yes.”
“Speak. No wait. I need more coffee. You?” Without waiting for a reply, he stepped into Brian and Jackie’s tiny kitchen retrieved the pot and the sugar bowl and brought them to the table. “Sit down here,” he said, while shoveling sugar. Once he’d taken his seat and fetched a toothpick from his pocket, he said, “Go.”
Brian picked up his cup and sipped, intending to stall and collect the right words but only succeeding in burning his lip, so that all he really said was, “Shit!”
Luki got him ice water.
“I am afraid of Vintner, which I already told you. Last thing I wanted was to end up like Espen, but he managed to blackmail me, I guess. He hired me… I mean, he came in pretending to be a customer — pretending either of us believed that — and wanted me to look into the hot cars he sold that were then stolen from his customers. I said no, but he let me know he could hurt people I loved. And well, I believe him Luki. Ruth and Jade, what happened to Lonny, that’s not coincidence.”
“No. It’s not. And you’re right to be scared of him. So you… agreed. You didn’t think of telling me.”
“It was the first thing I thought of, but that was part of his warning And I half-convinced myself I could just do it, and he’d let us alone. I know that was stupid.”
“That’s all there is. Except I went to jail…”
“Not that time. Before.” Brian told him about Jackie’s search for Esi, about the trip into the tunnels with Dr. Holland, and the weird fight with Roscoe Lieb, or Gerald Roscoe. “Whatever his name is. We both got arrested. I got released. Apparently there’s no record of it, because it didn’t turn up in the fingerprint match the other day.”
Luki stayed calm and cool, but there was a strained edge to it, and he said nothing until he’d finished his coffee and started in on the toothpick. “Anything else, Brian? Anything at all?”
“Um… I demanded data from him, info on his customers. Told him I couldn’t do the job without it. I thought maybe we… I… we could use it to… I don’t know. I got it. He sent files.”
Luki’s eyes widened and he nodded, but the silence was deep enough for Brian to count the muffled ticks of the clock on the kitchen stove.
“Just so you know,” Luki finally said, his tone casual, “He’s not blackmailing you.”
“It’s called coercion, not blackmail. Two different beasts. And you realize that by working with Vintner — even superficially — you’ve become at the very least an accomplice in his crimes, if perhaps a case couldn’t be made for conspiracy.”
Brian closed his eyes, part of his struggle to maintain his balance. Bullshit. I am not a criminal! He knew that, and he was convinced that Luki knew it too.
“You could try, as a defense, to point out that you were coerced — feared for your life, even. Unfortunately, while coercion can get you out of a contract, it can’t really get you out of a guilty verdict. So we’ll have to try something else.”
“Of course, Brian. Think about it. You are my nephew’s husband. If you get hurt, he’s hurt. And you’re my employee. If you get convicted my business is seriously fucked. And you’re my friend. Someone I care about. Love like family — you are family. I might not be happy with things you’ve done, but I’m not gonna hang you out to dry.”
“Uh, well. Thank you.” In reality, Luki’s kind words did more to undo Brian’s composure than any threat or angry snarl could ever have done. He couldn’t meet Luki’s eyes, so he drank coffee, then wiped an imaginary spill with the heel of his hand. “So then, you have a plan?”
“Yes. I’m going to disappear, at least as far as most eyes are concerned. I’m going to take some important people with me to keep them safe — including Jackie.”
Brian wanted to break down and cry. Everything he was facing was already overwhelming. The last thing he wanted to hear was that he’d be facing it alone, with no help, and no Jackie to claim his attention once he got home — and yes, to find comfort in, even shelter.
“No,” Brian said, and even though it came out like a poisoned breath, he meant it sincerely. He wanted Jackie safe above all else. And if Jackie was at the apartment behind VSI — or anywhere Vintner could find him easily — safe is what he would not be. After swallowing to try and fix his voice, Brian repeated, “No, Luki. Jackie being safe is the most important thing in the world. Hiding with you seems like a safe place.”
“Good. To be clear, he and Sonny and whoever else close enough to either of us to be in danger — if I can get them to join me — will be ‘hiding’ on vacation. And I’ll have some people around, keeping eyes out. People who know how to deal with bad guys.”
He stopped speaking, and when he caught Brian’s eye, smiled softly, his eyes kind and reassuring in an expression Brian thought wouldn’t have even been in Luki’s repertoire before Sonny, before the cancer.
Brian breathed a little easier, and smiled back, although truthfully it only made the desire to weep a little stronger. He still pushed it back, though. He didn’t want Luki to think he was caught up in self-pity.
“You won’t be alone in whatever’s coming your way. I’ll make sure you have a way to get in touch with Jackie, and possibly more important in the circumstances, me. I’ll help you in any way I can that doesn’t endanger our people more than necessary. I’m going to seem to disappear, but I’ll be around. Does any of that help?”
Brian nodded emphatically, almost knocked the chair down, getting up, and started viciously rinsing out his cup. “Though I’d feel even better if I was one of them.”
“One of who?”
“People who know how to deal with bad guys.”
“You are, Brian. Why do you think Vintner feels a need to make sure you’re handled?”
Luki brought his cup to Brian for a wash, leaned in, and said, “Anyway, I’m glad the measures I’m taking make you feel a bit better. Because, I now need to pull the rug out from under you.”
“I’m going to report it all to Jesse Douglas.”
At the word ‘report,’ Brian dropped the cup. Fortunately, nothing broke. “Jesse Douglas — State Department, they’ve already had me charged with a crime.”
“Yeah, well. I think we can stop that before it becomes a trend.”
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