I never really understood what I was missing, until now.

Three days have passed since I spoke to my dad, and my spirits are revitalized. Sometimes all you need is a simple sentence to set you straight.

“Whatever you do, listen to Nox. He’s only got your best interests at heart.”

I really hope so, Dad, because I’m beginning to trust him in a way I don’t trust anyone else.

Boo and I spend the afternoon cooking dinner. You’d think this would be a simple task. The thing is, we cook for twenty. That’s how many people work at the safe house. And with Boo being the only other woman, that’s how many giant soldier-commando men we have to feed. They don’t eat home-cooked meals every night. Most of the time, they settle for take-out. It’s quicker and easier.

When Boo asked me to peel some potatoes, I was all ‘Sure thing. Pass ‘em over!’

How hard could it be?

She handed me a twenty pound bag of potatoes. Then laughed.

My pruney, wrinkled hands will smell of starch for a week. Fo shizzle.

The past few days have confirmed my suspicion that Nox has assigned Boo to watch over me. And it doesn’t bother me. Not in the slightest. I like Boo. We have weird and wacky conversations. If we’d met her under different circumstances, we’d be bffs.

“So, where is Nox anyway?” I ask, stirring the beef and wine goulash that smells divine.

Boo cocks a brow at me questioningly. “Why’d you wanna know? I thought you’d be thrilled to be rid of him.”

I answer way too quickly. “I am!” Flushing, I try again, forcing myself to slow the hell down and act nonchalant. I do this little shrug and tip my head, making me look a little less relaxed and more like a stroke victim . “I mean, he’s been okay the last few days, but he told me I was his responsibility and I was just wondering what was so important that he had to make you babysit me.”

Purposely avoiding the question, she smiles softly, “It’s never babysitting with you, Dee.” Chuckling, she goes on, “I actually feel bad for having so much fun with you. It doesn’t even feel like I’m working. I don’t get to spend time with women a lot and…and I guess I forgot how much I missed it. Rock’s jealous. He wants to take a shift with you so he can teach you how to throw a decent punch.”

No way! Cool!

That certainly draws my attention. Stirring forgotten, I answer enthusiastically, “Would he really? Oh, man. I’d love that. I always wanted to do a self-defense course, but my dad-” My bravado fizzles and I fade out. Regaining a little excitement, I ask quickly, “Do you think you could teach me stuff, too? Like maybe…” Looking around to make sure Nox isn’t lurking in a dark corner, I’m convinced enough to ask, “Like weapons and gun stuff?”

Boo’s eyes widen and she chuckles humorlessly, “Hold up there, Dee. You don’t need to know any of that stuff, hon. I can, however, teach you how to bring a man to his knees in a second flat. Nothing so permanent, though.”

Widening my eyes to match hers, I yell, “Hello?” Thrusting my arms out by my sides, I whisper shout, “Someone is trying to kill me! The knee thing is all fine and dandy, but what if something happens and I need to…” Swallowing hard, I whisper, “What if I need to make sure someone is gone? Like, forever gone, type-a gone.”

Boo’s face turns sad. Which, in turn, makes me sad. She asks glumly, “This really bothering you? Even with us here?”

My heart palpitates and I nod vigorously, knowing she’ll never understand just how much this is affecting me, even if I wanted to share.

Forcing a smile that doesn’t meet her eyes, she concedes with a curt nod, “I’ll teach you everything I can while you’re here.”

Definitely not the answer I was expecting.

My mouth gapes and I whisper, “Seriously?”

Taking the wooden spoon out of my hand, she stirs the pot and avoids my gaze. “Yep. Seriously.” Her face voids of any emotion and she says almost mechanically, “Every girl should know how to protect herself. That includes you.” Clearing her throat, she adds quietly, “Help you anyway I can, Dee.”

My throat thickens. I don’t know what to say. Boo is the first friend I’ve made in years.

Standing close to her, I bump her shoulder with mine. In my peripheral vision, I see a small smile play at her mouth as her shoulder bumps mine back. I smile big. We both chuckle and Boo says, “God, we’re dorks.”

I agree. Totally.


The office door bursts open and an angry looking Boo strides in.

Not good.

Never good.

Turning back to the laptop, I’m immediately wary. “Where’s Lily?”

“Rock’s teaching her to throw a decent punch.” My brows crease as she continues, “I’ve been teaching her self-defense, too.” She nods before she asks accusingly, “What the fuck have you been doing for her?”

Hold up.

What’d she just say?

Opening my mouth to answer, she holds up a hand and I stop in my tracks. Put in my place like a small child, she utters, “Never been disappointed in you, Nox. Never. Till now.”

Fury works its way up my stomach and sits, waiting to strike in my solar plexus. I don’t speak.

Don’t have to explain myself to anyone.

Boo’s face falls as she whispers, “What is up with you?”

Lifting my face to hers, I glare. Hard.

Boo doesn’t flinch.

She’s known me too long. Knows my intimidation tactics.

Lowering my gaze back to the laptop, I murmur, “Don’t gotta explain myself to you.”

Hurt crosses her features and I feel like an asshole. Not enough to apologize.

She hisses through gritted teeth, “Fine.”

Typing away, I say, “Fine.”

Not liking my being a smartass, she growls, “Fine!”

My brows furrow and I shout to her retreating form, “Fine!”

The door slams shut, matching the sound of my slamming the laptop shut.


Panting, sweating, and mentally cursing, I kick even higher than last time. My entire body throbs. Getting him in the shoulder, the dummy barely wobbles. This pisses me off. His blank, stupid looking face mocks me. I want to punch him in his silicone nose.

How the hell can I be getting weaker the more I train?

“You’re trying too hard, Lil. Cool off for a minute, then we’ll start again.” Rock calls out from across the room. “This happens, ya know? When you train too hard, you get exhausted. Happens to the best of us.”

Placing my hands on my hips, I bend forward at the waist. Panting, I reply breathily, “Get out of my head, Rock.”

Walking over to me, he smirks and unwraps the tape on my hands. He’s wearing a pair of basketball shorts. That’s all. Gotta admit, it’s nice having something to look at while you work out. Especially if that someone looks like Rock.


His olive skin gleams with perspiration. I flush as I wonder what his sweat would taste like. I also thank God that Rock isn’t a telepath. My eyes glide down his defined stomach to the indent forming a V then even lower to the low riding elastic on the waist of his shorts and I gulp.

Dear God, I’m a pervert.

Snapping my head up, my gaze meets Rock’s. Eyes crinkled, he says through a soft laugh, “Why, lovely Lily, you’re blushing.”

Crap! Busted.

“Sorry,” I mumble under my breath, my face flaming further.

“Look all you want, babe. Makes me feel like I’m doin’ somethin’ right.” His warm-brown eyes crinkle further and I slap a hand to my forehead. Rock bursts into laughter and I can’t stop the chuckle that bubbles up my throat.

Rock’s a lot of fun. He’s also my friend.

God, it’s nice to say that.

I have friends! I mentally squeal while jumping up and down like a fangirl.

Boo gave me three sets of workout clothes. The sports bras she gave fit almost perfectly, but she’s a little bigger in the booty. Luckily, not so much bigger that the shorts will fall off, but I do have to pull them up quite a lot while exercising.

My appetite has come back with a vengeance, so I no longer look like I’m terminally ill, but I’ve noticed working out makes me even hungrier. Boo and Rock are so relieved that I’m eating again. And this makes me happy because I like seeing them happy.

Still resting, I’m caught unawares when Rock grabs me from behind. One strong arm around my middle, the other crossed between my breasts, his hand gripping my shoulder tight.

And shit! It’s a tight hold.

Gritting my teeth, my hands move to his arms and I kick out. I struggle hard for a full minute before wheezing out, “I can’t do it!”

Lips to my ear, he says softly, “Close your eyes.” I trust Rock, so I do as I’m told. He goes on, “Feel me around you.”

Damn, that sounds like a line out of one of my erotic romance novels!

My stomach clenches as he says, “I know I got ya good, but think, Lily. Just think. What can you use to get free?” I’m already exhausted from struggling and getting nowhere. He says firmly, “Stop struggling. Now.”

And I do.

He whispers, “Think, babe.”

And I’m so damn tired that I lose the fight in me. Melting back into him, I utter hoarsely, “I give up, Rock. I can’t. Not today.”

A loud cough at the doorway draws my attention.

Well, well, well. If it isn’t Mr. You’re-My-Responsibility-But-I-Don’t-Have-Time-For-You!

Nox stands in the doorway, jaw tight, looking as if he’s holding himself back from doing something bad. His cold-blue eyes meet mine. The vein in his temple sticks out as he growls, “Having fun?”

Rock’s body shakes with laughter and his breath warms my neck. The strong arm between my boobs tightens a little and my eyes widen. So here I am, between two hottie-commando men. One has me wrapped up, the other looks like his order of protection just turned to an order of elimination.

And I’m just here, hanging mid-air in some hot guy’s arms.

My brain adds in a sing-song voice, “Awkward!”

Cheeks flushed hot pink, I thank the heavens above when Rock sets me down on my feet. He sounds amused when he tells me, “Tomorrow, you rest up. But you have what’s called an active rest day. So no lyin’ in bed all day, okay? Find something to do that keeps you moving. Go for a walk around the house or some shit, but don’t let your muscles seize. That’s your mission tomorrow.” Looking up at Nox, he smirks, “Laters, Lily.” Then he’s gone.

Standing face to face with a still pissed Nox, I find myself getting pissed, too. Nox just has that effect on me. I swear this guy must’ve been conceived through backdoor action. There’s no way being that much of an asshole is natural .

Turning my back, I gather my towel and water bottle before uttering casually, “Haven’t seen you in almost a week.”

When I turn back around, he slowly places his hands in his cargo pants’ pockets and grumbles, “Been busy.”

And that, my friends, is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You know when you send someone a really long, heartfelt text message? You put so much effort into that damn text message and are so excited to send it and all they send you back in return is pissy ‘ok’?

Well, I hate that ‘ok’ text! And every second answer that comes out of Nox could be classified as an ‘ok’ text message.

Gah! Infuriating man!

My eyes flare at his short and curt answer. Placing a hand on my hip, I spit, “You’re such an asshole!” And that’s not all folks. Oh no. I don’t stop there. “And a bully!”

Nox remains impassive. Which, not surprisingly, only spurs me on. “And I don’t think I like you very much.”

A minute passes, we don’t take our eyes off each other. And now…I’m mortified.

Nox hasn’t moved an inch. His face remains blank. He never gives anything away. This, of course, makes me angrier. I fume in silence. What is it about this man that makes me go from zero to bitch in less than a second?

Apologize. Not his fault you’re takin’ the crazy train to loopsville.

I mentally sigh. Yeah. That wasn’t cool.

Just as I open my mouth to apologize, a shrill siren shrieks throughout the house.

What the frick?

Dropping to my knees, my eyes widen and I cover my ears while hyperventilating. Not a second later, I’m hoisted over Nox’s shoulder. He runs down the hall with me bouncing up and down like a rag doll.

This is serious. Something’s wrong.

Nox shouts orders over the siren, but I can’t make out any of it. That freakin’ siren is so shrill, it’s going to make my ears bleed! All I can do is grip the back of his tank tightly and hold on for dear life.

Petrified and about to pee myself, I lift my head to see Nox run me right out the front door. Right out the front door and into a waiting black van.

No. No. Not again!

With no care at all, he throws me into the back of the van. I land in a seat with an ‘Oomph’ and he quickly seats himself next to me. As soon as the door closes, Nox booms, “Go!”

And we do.

Shaking like a leaf, I turn my wide eyes to my protector and see something familiar in his hands.

Ahh, hello old friend.

Nox holds up the blindfold and I internally grimace. Clearly, now is not the time to argue. Nodding once, I turn my back to him and he places the blindfold over my head. My butt pressed against his thigh, I almost whisper, “Where are we going now?”

He sighs and answers just as softly, “I don’t know, Lily. I don’t know.”

Chapter Eight

One of these things is not like the others


So here I am, standing in the middle of a dingy motel room.

I’m here after spending almost seven hours in the back of a van with Nox. This might not have been an issue if the guy knew the meaning of the words ‘lighten up’. Alas, this is Nox we’re talking about. The guy’s meaning of relaxed is sitting in a hardwood chair while watching me sleep.