Home > The Protector

The Protector
Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas


Chapter 1

JAKE

 

His eyes, wide and terrified, stare up at me, his body frozen beneath mine. The heat, the dust, the sounds of screams around me—it’s all making it nearly impossible to focus. But I must focus. I blink rapidly, shifting to keep him secure, pushing him into the gravel and grit under me. I’m not supposed to be here. I should be out of sight in the surrounding hills, invisible amid the overgrowth and rocks. The unknown, unseen threat.

The man I’m holding prisoner is thin and malnourished, and the whites of his eyes are tinged by yellow. This brainwashed fucker has taken out two of my comrades. The intense ache in my shoulder reminds me that he nearly took me out, too. I should have stayed in position. I’ve fucked up. A reckless, selfish need to rain holy hell on these fucked-up arseholes has resulted in the deaths of two soldiers. It should be me lying dead in the dirt a few meters away. I deserve it.

His heart is beating frantically behind the thin material of his filthy T-shirt. I can feel the thuds punching into my chest, even through the layers of my clothing and bulletproof vest. But that evil glint in his glazed eyes is still there as he mumbles a jumble of foreign words up at me.

He’s praying.

He should be.

“See you in hell.” I pull the trigger and put a bullet in his skull.

* * *

 

I bolt up in bed, sweating and heaving, the thin sheets sticking to every part of me they touch.

“Motherfucker,” I breathe, allowing my eyes to adjust to the early morning glow until I can see the inky skyline of London from the panoramic window in my bedroom. It’s 6 a.m. I know that without even looking at the clock on my bedside cabinet, and it isn’t only the rising sun that tells me so. The alarm in my head that explodes at the same time every morning is both a burden and a blessing.

Throwing my legs off the side of the bed, I grab my phone, not surprised when I find no messages or missed calls.

“Morning, world,” I mutter, tossing it back onto the nightstand before extending my arms toward the ceiling, stretching my tight muscles. I roll my shoulders, breathing some air into my lungs before letting it stream out calmly through my nose. Leaning forward, I rest my forearms on my knees and stare out across the city, pushing back the nightmare to a safe corner of my mind as I breathe slowly through it. In and out. In and out. In and out. I close my eyes and thank the power of forged serenity. I’m a master at it.

But then my muscles tense all over again when the bed shifts beneath me. My hand slips straight under the mattress to pull out my VP9 before my mind has even voiced its command.

Impulse.

The gun is aimed at my waking target before my eyes have even focused.

Instinct.

I’m on my feet, naked as the day I was born, arms steady and stretched at full length in front of me. The 9mm handgun fits too well in my grasp.

“Hmmmmm.” The soft purr sinks into my mind, and I take in the tangle of long, naked limbs stretching out on my bed. My mind plays catch up, taking me back to the bar that I landed in last night, and I immediately shove the gun out of sight, just in time for her eyes to flutter open. She smiles lazily and lengthens her slim, tight body on a stretch, a calculated move designed to have my mouth watering and my cock twitching with want.

Too bad for her. There’s only one thing on my mind. And she isn’t it.

“Come back to bed,” she whispers, lustfully gazing over all 6 feet, 4 inches of my body as she props herself up on her slender elbow, her chin resting in her hand, long fingers drumming the smooth skin of her cheek.

I don’t give her the attention she’s demanding. I’m anticipating a very disappointed woman on the horizon. Same scene, different day.

I walk away, feeling the stabs of a filthy look being thrown at my back. “Sorry, I have things to do,” I say bluntly over my shoulder, without giving her the privilege of my attention while I speak. I haven’t got time for this. “Feel free to help yourself to a banana on the way out.” I round the corner into my bathroom.

The floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls give me a 180-degree view of the city, but all I can see is my haggard face in the mirror. I sigh and brace my hand on the side of my sink as I flip on the tap and stare at my pitiful reflection. I look as shit as I feel. Damn fucking Jack Daniel’s. My palm comes up and runs over the roughness of my jaw, just as I hear “You’re a fucking asshole!” followed by the telltale signs of a naked woman falling into my bathroom. I can’t disagree with her. I am an arsehole. An uptight, vengeful arsehole. I wish I could let the peace and quiet settle over me, but in my life there is no peace. I see their faces every time I close my eyes. Danny. Mike. They were like brothers, and even four years later, I know it’s because of me they’re dead. My stupidity. My selfishness. There’s no escape. Only distraction. Work, drink, and sex are all I have. And without an assignment at the moment, I’m down to two.

I cast tired eyes past my reflection and find her looking as outraged as I knew she would be. But there’s desire there, too. Her pert breasts are tipped with solid nipples and her angry eyes are still getting their fill of me. Turning my head to the side, I wait for her greedy gaze to fall to mine. Her lips part. My cock remains soft. Not even morning wood.

“Shut the door on your way out,” I say flatly, giving her nothing more than a straight face to accompany my blunt order. And then I see it. The intent.

“Here we go,” I muse to myself, pushing away from the sink and straightening, bracing myself.

She steams toward me, her hand locking and loading on her way. “You bastard!” She slaps me clean across my cheek. And I let her, gritting my teeth and waiting for the sting to fade before cricking my neck and opening my eyes. “The door’s that way,” I say, extending my arm past her.

We fall into a staring deadlock for a few moments—her stunned, probably reflecting back to the good fucking I gave her last night, and me impassive, wishing she’d hurry the hell up and get out so I can get on with my day.

“Thanks for the hospitality,” she snipes, finally pivoting on her bare feet and stomping away.

Moments later, the door slams, making the walls around me vibrate from the force, and I return to the mirror, grabbing my toothbrush. I clean my teeth, then pull on some shorts and running shoes and hit the streets.

* * *

 

The morning air feels good. I head to the parks, hearing the settling sounds of London by dawn, the sparse traffic, the birds, the sound of other running feet pounding the pavement. It all has the calming effect that I need to get my day off to a good start. The dew is still lingering on the grass, and a damp mist sticks to my naked torso as I sprint down the path. My legs are starting to go numb. It’s how I like it.

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