Navy SEAL Matt Waterstone knows about keeping people safe. When his best friend's sister is attacked, Matt promises no harm will come to Ashley Sawyer-not on his watch. But Matt's not the only protective one. Ashley will do anything to safeguard the residents of the battered women's shelter she runs. She's sure she can handle the threats she gets in return. What she can't handle is the way Matt scales the walls around her heart. Yet when she falls prey to a crime web more sinister than she'd realized, trusting Matt could be the only way to survive.
Read an excerpt:
"I'm impressed," her brother teased, the warm amusement in his voice coming clearly through the phone line. "You've been paying attention to the lingo."
"And you're avoiding the question." Tristan had been deploying with his team of U.S. Navy SEALs since she was sixteen. She knew that when he didn't answer a question, it was usually because he couldn't.
Stepping onto the curb, she asked, "Well, you and Matt just take care of each other, okay?"
Silence hung on the line for so long that she checked her phone to make sure she hadn't dropped the call. "Tristan?"
"Matt's not going this time."
Her heart squeezed just a bit. She'd counted on Matt Waterstone, her brother's best friend since their first day in SEAL training, to watch out for Tristan. Matt had a habit of being in the right place at the right time, protecting Tristan from at least one bullet during their deployments. And that was just what he would actually own up to.
She swallowed an unexpected lump in her throat at the thought of harm coming to the man she'd had a crush on once upon a time. "What happened?"
"Nothing major. He'll heal up just fine with a little time. Hey, maybe I'll send him your way for a visit—keep him from getting bored here on his own."
Ashley chuckled as she stepped down from the curb to cross the street. "Right, I'm sure he'd have more fun in tiny little Charity Way, California, than in San Diego. Besides, I wouldn't have much time to entertain him. We just got a new guest at Lil's Place who needs somewhere to stay out of town. My next few days will be pretty full setting that up."
Lil's Place had been housing battered women and their children for nearly ten years, and Ashley had served there for the past three. Within the past year she'd taken over as director of operations for the shelter. The new girl was her responsibility—along with all the other women and children at the shelter.
"Oh, Tristan, she's so young—maybe not even quite eighteen, and so petite. This guy must have been a monster, because she's bruised from her wrists all the way up to her elbows."
Her stomach swooped at just the thought of Joy, the young girl who had been dropped off the night before. If she had to guess, she'd say the girl was probably Korean, but Joy hadn't spoken more than a few words since arriving at Lil's, barely offering her name. That was certainly understandable. It was hard to talk with anyone—let alone a stranger—after suffering at an abuser's hands. After all, Ashley hadn't spoken to anyone about it for months after the first time Paul hit her. Just the memory made her cheek sting, and she rubbed it absently as she entered the grocery store.
"Where'd she come from?" Tristan was always so straightforward. His question brought a wry grin to her lips.
Looking over her shoulder and around the end of the aisle to make sure she wouldn't be overheard in the store, Ashley whispered, "My friend Miranda dropped her off last night. She just said the girl needs to get out of town and asked if I knew of a place where she'd be safe."
A full-body shiver made her wrap her arms around her middle. She didn't like moving abuse victims out of Charity Way—leaving an abuser was traumatic enough without having to adjust to a new town—but in certain high-risk situations, it was necessary. Some abusive men went after their victims. Hadn't Paul come after her every time she broke things off? Every time she changed her phone number? And Joy deserved to have a safe place to recover until she was ready to face her attacker.
Tristan let out a slow breath. "She's lucky to have you looking out for her. But don't forget to look out for yourself. You know what my rule number two is, right?"
"Don't fall out of the boat?"
He snorted. "Know your enemy. You've got to know who's been hurting this girl if your friend thinks there's a chance he'll come after her."
"And is rule number one as useful in this situation?"
"Don't get shot."
"All right. I won't. You don't either."
Having paid for a box of bandages and a compression wrap, Ashley exited the shop and started heading back home. As she crossed Main Street, she happened to glance to the side, directly into the reflection of the sun off of the windshield of a white sedan. Suddenly its tires squealed against the pavement as the car barreled toward her, gaining speed with every inch. Her mind froze, and her instincts took over as she fell backward. Her hip slammed into the sidewalk just as the car flew by and disappeared down another side street.
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