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Shattered (The Protectors #11)
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I failed Caleb once because I was a coward. And he ended up paying the price.
Ten years of war and the loss of nearly his entire family have left thirty-four-year-old former sniper, Jace Christenson, with nothing to come home to. And he prefers it that way. Life consists of his work in an underground vigilante group, the near-constant search for the last remaining link to who he used to be, and a string of meaningless sexual encounters that serve only one purpose… to make it easier to not feel anything anymore.
But when Jace gets the call that the young man he saved two years earlier has gone missing, he’s forced to deal with the truth he’s been trying to deny from the moment he laid eyes on Caleb Cortano.
That the young man is so very much more than just the exception to all his rules…
You know how if something shatters when it breaks, there’s no way to find all the pieces to put it back like it once was? Maybe sometimes it’s better not to even try…
But when he finally comes to accept that Jace Christenson wants nothing to do with someone who’s shattered beyond repair, Caleb finds another way to seek solace from the pain inside.
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“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I muttered seconds after my phone began ringing. A glance at the clock on my nightstand showed that I’d been asleep for less than twenty minutes. I was half tempted to ignore the damn thing, but something deep in my gut twisted with uncertainty. I’d learned long ago not to ignore the odd sensation. My grandmother had always assured me it was just the gypsy blood running through my veins, but I suspected it had more to do with the years I’d spent learning how to read my uncle’s moods so it would be easier to dodge his fists. It had served me well in the military many years later and had saved my life on more than one occasion, so I wasn’t about to cast it aside in favor of some much-needed sleep.
I fumbled for the phone as I pulled myself to an upright position and swung my legs over the side of the bed. I glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was my boss, Memphis Wheland. My plan had been to call him in the morning to let him know I was ready to be put back into the rotation, but the fact that he was calling me this late meant he likely already had a job for me.
“Yeah,” I said into the phone as I searched out the light switch on my nightstand.
“Yeah, what’s up?” I asked as I wiped at my eyes. It had been almost thirty-six hours since I’d last slept, but the adrenaline was already kicking in as my body began to anticipate the job he’d be assigning me. Between work and my countless trips overseas, I’d been killing myself lately, but it hadn’t been without purpose.
It was the only thing that helped me forget the pain-filled blue eyes that had been etched into my brain for nearly two years now.
Please… help me.
I flinched as the hoarse voice filtered through my brain.
He’s fine. You got him out of there, I reminded myself.
My stomach dropped out at Memphis’s words.
“What?” I asked, my voice sounding like I’d swallowed a handful of broken glass.
“He’s been missing since yesterday morning.”
“Jesus,” I muttered as I climbed to my feet. “What happened?”
Memphis sighed. “I take it you haven’t been watching the news.”
“No,” I said. “I’ve been… busy,” I added lamely, though the word didn’t even begin to describe the shit storm I’d been dealing with these last few weeks… years, actually.
“The trial against Caleb’s father started last week. Eli’s case.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I automatically sat back down on the bed as memories of the young man came flooding back to me. I’d met Eli Galvez nearly two years earlier when I’d been asked by my then-boss, Ronan Grisham, the head of the underground vigilante group I worked for, to check on Eli’s stepbrother who’d been institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital. My plan had just been to make sure young Caleb Cortano was okay when I’d broken into the hospital and disguised myself as an orderly. I’d found Caleb strapped to a bed, drugged to the gills and scared to death. I’d tried to convince myself the treatment must have been necessary for whatever mental problems he’d been dealing with, but the second he’d turned his terrified blue eyes in my direction, I’d known something wasn’t right. A single tear had rolled down his cheek and I’d been reaching for the restraint on his wrist before he’d even whispered the words that still haunted me.
Please… help me.
Everything had changed from that moment going forward.
Two days after I’d gotten Caleb out of there, I’d been sitting across from Eli and Maverick “Mav” James – another one of Ronan’s operatives who also happened to be Eli’s lover – explaining to young Eli that I’d watched several videos of him being brutally raped by his stepfather, Jack Cortano, Caleb’s father. As if that hadn’t been bad enough, I’d discovered multiple videos of Caleb and his older brother, Nick, being repeatedly sexually assaulted by their own father as well.
Jack had been arrested on multiple charges, but the district attorney had decided to start with Eli’s case first.
“What happened?” I asked, my heart in my throat.
“The judge threw out the videos on a technicality.”
I swallowed hard as I shook my head. How the fuck was that even possible? There’d been no question what had been happening in those videos and who the parties involved had been.
“Did Eli testify?” I asked. I knew that had always been the plan, though the videos alone should have been enough to prove that Jack had raped a then sixteen-year-old Eli.
“He did. It was…”
The fact that Memphis didn’t finish the statement pretty much answered the question for me. My heart broke for Eli and Mav. I stiffened as I realized where Memphis was going with this.