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Authors: Rie Warren

Under His Guard

BOOK: Under His Guard
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Rie Warren

A Don't Tell Novel

New York   Boston

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It's time for the Don't Tell journey to end. It's been an awesome ride for me, and I have many folks to thank for being with me every step of the way. Gillian Littlehale was my beta reader, my middle-of-the-night cheerleader, and the fact-checker who helped me keep my sanity. Jenna Barton, Kari Haines, Lisa Pinney, and Tracey Porcher provided constant feedback and support. These amazing women helped me bring the entire series together from the first days of the Revolution to the final endgame.

Thanks to my new editor, Scott Rosenfeld. He took up this last book and helped me shape it into something awesome. I have much appreciation for my agent, Saritza Hernandez, and her team at Corvisiero Literary. They've been great supporters of this series. Ron McAulay was on call through all three books with his weapons and military expertise. Joanne Sato, a dear friend, came through with the Japanese translations. I'm indebted to both of them.

I'm most grateful to my readers, my street team, and the many bloggers who championed the series through all of its twists and turns. Even when I'm sure they wanted to throttle some of my characters.

Last but not least, of course, is my family. They back me up, support my dream, and
never bat an eyelash at the crazy hours and unpredictable schedule I keep.

July, 2071, Chitamauga Commune

he meadow was a landscape of bonfires and boisterous revelers. Music swelled from Eden's and Nate's guitars as they took over from Smitty's painfully out-of-tune banjo playing. The Freelanders were in the full throes of merrymaking as they gathered in celebration of Liz and Linc's betrothal announcement. For one evening we forgot about the cruel facts of the war in favor of reveling in a moment of all-too-rare joy. The scene was a one eighty from the months spent in the urban Beta Territory, where bombs dropped, guns fired, and the Revolution had almost been lost.

Victory had been ours in the end. As always, it was paid with a high price. A similar rebel win in Alpha Territory had cost the lives of my two lovers. This time the cost was Leon's memory of me and our time together. And the son of a bitch responsible—CEO Cutler—had managed to escape unscathed once again.

But this wasn't the time for such dark thoughts. Perhaps that was why my mother had named me Darke. I'd always assumed it was because of my incredibly black skin and inky eyes, but maybe I'd just been a broody little bastard from birth. I nearly laughed at the thought, but I couldn't do that either. Not when the one person who knew how to lighten my mood danced in the middle of the meadow, as carefree and unbelievably sexy as always. Leon gave the type of wicked smile he'd previously reserved for me to some young buck named Jake or Jack or Jackal. My jealousy flared as I watched Leon twine his arms around the other man's neck and gyrate against his hips.

What very few knew about me was I felt too much, from all sides. Emotions came at me in clouds and bursts and spikes. While it was a boon on the field of battle, since I could get an immediate read on my warriors—who was a cool hand versus who was too freaked to fire their weaponry—this
was a bane to my barren love life. I'd cut Leon loose when his memories went on a leave of absence, thinking it was the higher road. Now I trudged my path alone.

After giving my congratulations to Linc and Liz, I'd ambled away from the group I'd been with through the battles of Beta. It was mostly to get away from Leon, yet I still couldn't take my eyes off him. I finally turned my back on the intoxicating movements of his body and decided to mingle with the other villagers. I danced a fast-paced jig with one of the women but declined a second dance when the music became slower and more sensual. I ended up drinking a couple tankards of ale with my buddy Micah as we laughed over his twin girls. They made their
Caspar and Nathaniel squire them about the field, which meant Smitty was back on the banjo, much to the agony of everyone's ears.

“Your girls are gonna be heartbreakers, man,” I said, knocking my mug against Micah's.

“Shit, Darke. You don't need to tell me that. Jesus. They take after their momma.” He pushed a faded green cap off his brow and winked at me. “Kamber had my nuts twisted tighter than a blue-balled bull the first time I met her.”

I grinned and took a swill of the alcohol in my cup.

“Mind now, that'un over there's a heartbreaker, too—ain't he?”

I looked in the direction he pointed and let loose a groan. Leon had switched partners. As Smitty warbled a raunchy song, Leon grinded his ass against a guy called Dixon. Or Dickhead, as I called him.

“Yeah, he is,” I answered, trying to pass off my gritted teeth as a smile.

I'd made avoiding Leon my latest detail, going out of my way to eat at opposite ends of the mess hall, ensuring Caspar was the one to head up any military training with him instead of me. Despite my efforts, I still knew where he was and what he was doing almost every second of every day.

Three more teasing dances from Leon later, I couldn't hold back any longer. When I saw him leaning against the fence, his own mug of ale in hand, I stalked toward him. The moon had long since risen and was making its way across the other side of the sky. The glow from the white orb above outlined his striking features and his shoulder-length hair in silver. He was stunning. The sight of him stole my breath and cooled some of the jealousy he'd stoked. He always wreaked havoc on my too-vulnerable emotions.

As I approached, his golden gaze found mine. He leaned his head back and dragged the hair away from his face, affording me a mouthwatering view of his clenched biceps and the cords of his neck. I ran a finger down his throat, which elicited a small gasp. He lifted his head as I sucked my fingertip, licking off the salty taste lingering there.

“You about done making a spectacle of yourself out there with Jackal and Dickhead?”

“Who?” Leon's chest was shiny with perspiration, his shirt long gone.

Copper-colored nipples sat on his tight pectorals. I wanted to kiss them, lap them until he cried out my name. His chest was smooth until a thin line of soft-looking dark brown hair ran from his navel to the top of his pants, nearly dripping off his Adonis belt.

My gaze rose from wandering all over his body. “Jack. Dixon. And that other one who was all over you.”

He finished taking a long, lazy sip of his drink and cleaned his lips off with a slow roll of his tongue. “What do you care? I know you won't help my momma and Miss Eden tap into my memories. I know you're hidin' somethin'.” He rubbed his stomach like a lion preening itself, muscles rippling beneath his hand. “But guess what? The world don' revolve around you.”

The words were eerily similar to something he'd said the night I'd tracked him to Farrow's apartment in Beta. He'd been downright pissed off at me for following him when he'd wanted only to get away from me. He didn't remember any of that now.

Leon was right. I used his amnesia to keep him at arm's length, for all the goddamn good it did me. Fresh emotion boiled through me.

I grabbed the rail behind him with both my hands, caging him against the fence. “I care,” I bit out. I'd cared then, and I for damn sure cared now.

“You jealous?” Leon didn't shrink from my presence. Instead he arched into my body. A breath hissed from me as his chest came into contact with mine and the contours of his lean legs brushed my thighs.

I swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

Winding his fingers through his sun-streaked hair, he licked his lips. They were red, and juicy, always plump, begging to be kissed. I couldn't look away. He slid one long thigh between mine and drew it back slowly. The ache in my groin exploded into a full-blown erection from that teasing stroke alone.

“Then why don' you fuck me already?”

It was as if lightning struck my body, sizzling right down to my balls. My hands clenched the fence rail, but I wanted nothing more than to drive them inside the back of his pants, pull him against me. Find some relief from this longing, this raw seduction that had been building for six months whether he remembered or not.

I jerked away when his lips sought mine. A kiss, one kiss from this man, and I'd be a goner. I couldn't. I just
get involved with Leon. My chest billowed in and out with the effort to put a stop to this one more time.

Words, harsh and low, fell from my mouth before I even considered them. “Because I don't fuck. I make love.”

Leon's face crashed in an instant. “And you don' love me.” He moved as far back from me as he could.

I scowled at him. There was no answer to that. None I was ready to give. I turned away and vaulted over the fence, almost tripping over my feet to beat a hasty retreat. But I couldn't move fast enough to outrun the guilt and desire that battered me. Leon always flew too close to my emotions. I couldn't let him in enough to hurt me.

From behind, I heard Liz shout, “Hey!”

My shoulders drooped. I slowed my sprint to a stop. She'd been looking out for Leon since he'd arrived in Beta. She hadn't stopped just because we were back in Chitamauga. Liz was as much a woman as a soldier, and I had a sinking feeling she was about to kick my ass and then give me love advice.

“What the hell are you playing at?” She grabbed my arm, tugging me around.

So it
to be the ass-kicking first. At least she was predictable. She stood a good few inches shorter than me but was formidable nonetheless, even without her usual weapons holstered at her hips.

“I'm not playing anything. This isn't a game you can tactically decide from the sidelines, so back the fuck off.”

“Not gonna happen. Why don't you tell me why you're running away from Leon again? What was all that shit you spouted when Taft brought him back to you?”

I folded my arms across my chest. “Ignorance, arrogance, and blind stupidity.”

“You know what? All that fucked-up emotion? That was the first honest feeling you've shown toward Leon.” Her finger pointed at me, and if she'd had one of her guns, it probably would've gone off right then, too.

“I don't know what you're talking about.” When faced with a woman going all mama bear, it was best to play dumb.

“I got eyes in my head. I know what I see. It just so happens I saw you last night, Darke, at the lake, watching Leon.”

Ah fuck.
“You saw me?”

I hadn't intentionally followed Leon, but I'd heard him whistling. Then playing in the water. I'd kept to the tree line, shaking with need. Leon swam, and his sleek body teased me from the lake—a flash of his perfect ass rising above the waves, the splash of water running down his chest. It'd taken all my restraint to keep from joining him, to walk away.

I glared at Liz. “Wait. You saw him naked?”

“Easy there, big guy. I got a man of my own, and you could, too, if you pulled your head out of your ass. So why don't you tell me what the hell is going on?”

I clamped my fingers into my hair and pulled hard. A rumbling groan grew from my chest in sheer despair. “I don't know.”

“Are you shitting me? Do you remember sobbing over him when he was gone? I do. Because I was right there with you.”

“Maybe the amnesia thing is better for him, a clean break…”

“I'm gonna clean break your neck.” She got right in my space, shoving her finger in my face. “Look. Did you see what he was doing out there? He was making you jealous, and it worked because you're about one step away from devouring him on the spot every time you see him. He wants you. So it doesn't matter what the hell he does or doesn't remember, Darke. He's into you. He is yours. Still.”

“Not my problem anymore.” I dodged Liz's eyes, squared my shoulders, firmly setting myself on the path of probable personal destruction.

“Wrong. He is always gonna be your problem and your man. You need to grow a pair already.”

She looked thoroughly disgusted with me when she pivoted on her heel and took off for the meadow. It didn't matter. No one could be more ashamed of me than I was.

*  *  *

I walked back to my caravan. I had to stop before going up the steps. As always, I shut my eyes for a moment to prepare myself for the scene inside. After closing the door gently behind me, I bent to unlace my boots and place them aside. I tried not to look around too much. Tam's and Wilde's belongings—their books, clothes, weapons, and trinkets—were how they'd left them. I hadn't moved or removed a single thing. I couldn't bear to touch them. I couldn't bear to part with them. Though Wilde and I had spent one summer cobbling two caravans together and the place was bigger than most others, I felt suffocated.

Their ghosts still lingered.

There was no room for Leon here. I'd made the right decision, but even so, he'd filled the hole in my chest for a little while, back in the winter. Now it simply gaped open.

Broody bastard? I'm downright maudlin.
I snuffed out a smile. Lighting a few candles, I undressed and washed quickly. The big, empty bed was another torment, but instead of memories of old, it filled me with fresh, increasingly hot fantasies. No, it wasn't Tam or Wilde I thought about. It wasn't either of them who kept me up night after lonely night, awake and so aroused I had to relieve the physical ache with fingers I pretended were long and slim and tanned, a hand I wet with my tongue so when I wrapped it around my jutting cock, I could imagine I was being sucked and teased and blown by the poutiest, reddest pair of lips beneath two heavy-lidded, honey-flecked eyes. Even when I came so hard I had to bite back a holler and mop away strands of milky liquid all the way up my chest, I was left unsatisfied. The emotional turmoil I felt never disappeared.

Tonight was no different. I thrashed around the bed, sleep chased away by images of Leon—laughing, dancing, flirting—the scent of him that was earthy, his guttural accent spoken in a soft, low voice. My hunger for Leon never waned. It became harder with each passing day to maintain distance. I hoped like hell he'd gone to bed alone and not with Jackass or Dickhead or any number of randy males he could pick from.

It felt like my eyes had only just shut when my Data-Pak went off over and over, showing no signs of stopping its piercing alert. I snatched the handheld comms device from the floor beside the bed and checked the incoming.
Linc Cutler.

I barked into the thing, “Thought I said congrats earlier, man. It's too fucking late for you to be on the horn on your betrothal night.”

“I've just gotten word from Denver.” I went on high alert at the mention of CEO Cutler's personal bodyguard. “This is strictly on a need-to-know basis, so I'm not gonna spread it over the D-P. Be in the town hall in ten minutes.” The tension in Linc's voice sounded clearly through the airwaves.

Instantly, all weariness fled. After yanking on the clothes I'd taken off only hours before, I slammed outside. I didn't even bother with my bootlaces.

The town hall became a tunnel through which I saw only Liz and Linc at the opposite end. Linc stood behind the table, Liz at his side. Hatch—the brains of the commune—Nathaniel, and Cannon hurried in after me. Both Linc and Liz nodded at them, but they skipped over me.

BOOK: Under His Guard
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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