He’s spent his life preparing for every form of warfare—except the one against his heart.

When in doubt, blow it up, has been Kent “Rigs” Walker’s motto—words he’s used to carve out a life. Until an encounter with an IED takes more than just his military career. Left to forge a new life—scarred and beaten—he’s accepted an offer to join Hank Patterson’s company, Brotherhood Protectors, on the premise Hank will keep Rigs right where he wants to be—deep in the trenches and away from society.

Until he finds himself at a high-class charity auction with all of his failures on display. Exposed. He didn’t plan on bumping into Addison Bailey. Or having her affect him on a level that feels etched into his DNA. And for the first time in two years, he’s considering stepping back into the light.

When things go sideways, coming to Addison’s aid is natural—a part of his genetic makeup. Wanting to kiss her, touch her, take her to bed? That’s new. And scarier than any mission he survived in the Marines. But failure has never been an option. With Addison’s life on the line? Even less. He doesn’t have any intel. Doesn’t know what forces he’ll face. But he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe and at his side. Even if it means, going in blind.

Bainbridge Foundation, Seattle, Washington.

Kent “Rigs” Walker was going to kill Hank Patterson. Not quickly. No, Rigs was going to draw it out. Nice and slow. Make the man suffer, just like Rigs was suffering, now. He’d made a deal with the ex-veteran. He’d join Hank’s company—Brotherhood Protectors. Do his best to work his way out of the funk he’d been in since being cast out of his MARSOC unit with the Marines. Left to reassemble the shattered pieces of his soul—the ones the IED had missed when it had taken just about everything else. His career. His honor. Half his fucking face. All Rigs had asked was that Hank, known as Montana to his men, kept Rigs in the shadows. Any dirty job no one else wanted—Montana gave it to him.

Rigs wanted the security details that didn’t involve Hollywood starlets or influential CEOs. He didn’t want hotel rooms with posh interiors. Dinners in five-star restaurants. Backwoods cabins? Hiding out from the mafia in places so ugly no one would ever think to venture there? Rigs was there.

And for six months, Montana had kept his word. He’d given Rigs every questionable job that had come across his desk—ones Rigs knew the man might have otherwise turned down. Not the usual honorable missions. In fact, some of the people Rigs had shadowed were no better than the people hunting them. But it had kept him off the grid. Out of the limelight, and best of all, isolated.

So, what the hell was he doing at a star-studded charity auction, dressed in a fucking tux, complete with a tie, vest, and what Montana had called a pocket square—was Rigs supposed to blow his nose with it? Because he had visions of using the stupid folded cloth to wipe up Montana’s blood. The blood he was going to spill just as soon as he could head back to Eagle Rock and murder the bastard in the very office where he’d shook his hand.

Rigs grinned to himself. Oh yeah. He could get behind that. Or even better, set a few charges around the man’s home. Get him when he least expected it. Of course, Rigs wouldn’t. Hank had a wife, a pretty little girl. No way, Rigs would ever harm either of them. And he couldn’t rightly kill Montana when the guy had tossed him a lifeline. A Hail Mary when Rigs had been just about ready to wire himself up.

But fuck, he wanted to. He hated this. Hated the feel of the starch white shirt against his skin. The way it caught on the raised scars across his chest whenever he turned. How he knew you could see the long keloids through the fabric, which is why he’d kept on the vest and jacket, despite the warm temperatures. It was bad enough his face was in full view—right out there. On display like a freak at a sideshow. If the guests had been able to see how the scars continued down his torso—yeah, the auction would have been a bust because everyone would have turned and run.

Instead, they only turned and ran from him. Okay, they walked extremely fast in another direction. It didn’t matter. Their reactions hurt, even if he had braced himself against it. Known from the start how it would all play out. Rigs was good at tactics, at strategizing. And he’d known the moment he’d received the assignment that it was going to turn ugly.

“Christ, Rigs, I swear if you tug on that tie one more time, I’m going to use it as a noose.”

Rigs glared at his buddy, or should he say traitor. The next guy on his list he was going to murder then wipe up with his tiny square of cloth. Of course, Sam Montgomery, aka Midnight, didn’t mind wearing a tux. The guy looked like a million bucks in his. Suave. Professional. He fit in, along with the rich businessmen and CEOs. He didn’t have a hair out of place. His damn shoes reflected the overhead lights. He could have walked in straight off the pages of GQ.

Looks weren’t something Rigs had really wasted much time worrying about. He’d never had any issues finding a willing bed partner. Had even dated several pretty women for a few months, once upon a time. But now… 

Between the scars and the stress, Rigs looked like a thug. One that had seen hard times and come out the other end tired and beaten. Like the kind of people he and his buddies were supposed to keep out of the auction. Shaggy hair, stubble, and a scowl he’d perfected over the past several months, people stared at him, shuddered, then looked at Midnight, as if needing the other man to cleanse their visual palate. Rigs had lost count of the number of times women had gasped, lifted their hands to their mouths before politely trying to talk it off as seeing a spider.

Well, the entire room must be full of fucking tarantulas because that was the only explanation that  fit their reactions.

He glanced across the room. Russel or Ice, as he was affectionately known, was married to one of the few woman who hadn’t flinched, cringed or screamed when she’d first taken in Rigs’ battle-worn face. Harlequin James, or Foster, now, had managed to look Rigs in the eyes and talk as if the scars weren’t there—weren’t glaring at her like a damn beacon of his greatest failure. He’d been sweet on her ever since. Not in a romantic way—she was devoted to Ice, and they’d gotten hitched in Vegas only a month after Ice had popped the question. More like a sister. One he’d already taken a few bullets for—that he’d kill to protect.

Rigs gave Midnight a shove. “I don’t see why we had to get dressed up. I look out of place. Any tango with half a brain will make me with just a glance.”

“What the hell are you talking about? You look fine—when you’re not yanking on that tie.”

You look fine. I look like I killed the guy who owns this tux then took his place so I could blend in. Which I don’t.”

Midnight sighed. To his credit, he didn’t call Rigs out—lecture him on how his scars weren’t nearly as bad as Rigs made them out to be, and that most people hardly noticed them. He would have given good money to know who these “people” were Midnight seemed to think looked beyond the marks because they sure as hell weren’t in this building.

Rigs fisted his hands to keep them by his side instead of around Midnight’s throat, casually scanning the room. “Hell of a turnout. Bridgette’s clinic is going to receive some serious funding if this crowd is half as rich as it looks. Did you see some of the items up for sale?” He whistled. “More money than I make in a year.”

“You and me both, brother.” Midnight turned when Bridgette walked over and pressed a kiss on his cheek. “Everything all right, darling?”

She nodded, smiling at Rigs. Bridgette was another one who hadn’t been fazed by his looks. Who always made eye contact whenever they spoke—which wasn’t often. Rigs went out of his way to avoid any kind of contact beyond his ex-military brothers—men who’d bled as much as he had. And, now, here he was, standing beneath the crystal chandeliers, exposed.

Bridgette rested her hand on Midnight’s arm—a visual show of affection. They had finally set a date. October. When they’d attended Ice’s impromptu wedding, she’d suggested following suite—finding a chapel right then and making it official. But Midnight had kissed her and calmly told her he wanted her to have the wedding of her dreams because he was going to personally see to it that it was the only one she’d ever get. She’d teared up—Rigs hadn’t really understood why. She’d seemed happy, but there had been tears dotting her face. Women. Who really understood why they did anything? Not him. She’d kissed Midnight and casually said October.

Bridgette brushed back some hair that had pulled free from her complicated knot, glancing at the people seated off to their right. “There’re just about to start the second half. I can’t believe how much money we’ve raised, already. Do you know how many women I’ll be able to help?”

Midnight smiled. “All of them. And you deserve it. What you’ve been doing these past months—couldn’t be prouder. I’m just glad Jeremy called—got you to accept this offer. You tend to be a bit…stubborn when it comes to help.”

She laughed. “Just because I busted your ass when you showed up to be my bodyguard doesn’t mean I shun everyone.”

Somehow, Midnight held back from rolling his eyes. “Right. It’s just me.”

Her eyes glassed over. “Yeah. Only you. Forever.”

And fuck if Midnight didn’t do something Rigs had never seen the hardcore Army Ranger do. Ever. Midnight’s expression softened, and he kissed her. Right there. In the middle of an op. No concern for his surroundings. A group of tangos could have picked that exact moment to bust in, guns blazing, and Midnight would have been busy losing himself in his fiancée’s mouth.

Rigs averted his gaze. Bad enough he seemed to be the only one not blindsided by love. Completely focused on the mission. Watching them kiss—seeing their obvious happiness—it stung. Especially, when he knew he’d never find that. Never have someone look at him with complete and utter adoration. Sure, he could probably find someone to have sex with. Not every woman cared about anything above a man’s waist. But love. Actual love that involved more than just genitals grinding—that involved his fucking soul? Yeah, not in the cards.


It took Rigs a moment to realize Bridgette was addressing him—no one called him Kent except her. He glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

“I just wanted to thank you for coming. I know this isn’t really your scene. But even though Jeremy hired security, I just feel better knowing you, Russel, and Sam are here. My own secret Black Ops force.”

Rigs snorted. “A Marine, a Ranger, and a PJ. Not exactly your typical Spec Op squad. And you didn’t even let me bring any explosives. I feel…naked.”

This time, Midnight rolled his eyes. “There were bomb sniffing dogs at the entrances. The last thing we needed was to have one of them attack you. You’re just lucky that’s a rented tux, or there’d most likely be some residual powder on it.” He cracked a smile. “Though, seeing you try to outrun a German shepherd might have been worth it.”

“You know, you’re all pretty cocky for people who have to live knowing I could wire your damn toothbrush to explode.”

“You’re one of the good guys. I’ll take my chances.” He turned to Bridgette. “I was just going to do a round of the room. Why don’t you walk with me? It’ll make me look less obvious, and I get to know you’re safe. A double win in my books.”

Bridgette’s face lit up. Just beamed with joy. She took his arm, said something that sounded like goodbye to Rigs then walked off with Midnight.

Fuck. Rigs was definitely going to kill Hank.

Rigs looked over at Ice. He swore the man sensed when someone needed him—probably a PJ thing because he hadn’t met a pararescue tech, yet, who didn’t have the sixth sense—because the man stopped talking to one of the guests and glanced over at him, eyebrow arched. Rigs nodded then made a twirling motion with his hand—signaling he was going to do a perimeter check. Ice gave him a thumb’s up.

The announcer’s voice sounded, again, as Rigs walked toward the east side of the building. He’d do a circle—check out the front entrance then go for a brief walk through the rear gardens. Though there was security at the main entrance accessible from outside the gated grounds, and another couple guys walking the perimeter, he felt better doing his own recon. Getting away from the crowds didn’t hurt, either. For a huge place, he’d found it next to impossible to isolate himself where he could still be effective.

Rigs gave the area one last scan—noting both Ice and Midnight’s positions—then headed for the foyer. The Bainbridge Foundation was an impressive building with enormous, arched ceilings and large columns. It sat two stories high and covered half an acre of the beautiful estate. He’d only been upstairs a couple of times, choosing to focus on the lower levels—where he could keep a closer eye on the auction.

The main floor had multiple open areas along an interconnecting hallway, all fanning out from a central sweeping staircase. There were nooks located along every wall, some with chairs, others with plants. Hanging fixtures bathed the interior in bright light, though half had been dimmed to create a cozier atmosphere.

At least, that’s what Bridgette had said. Rigs wouldn’t know a cozy atmosphere if it bit him in the ass. Not after growing up bouncing from one foster home to another then spending his adult life in the Marines Corps. Stark. Depressing. Those he understood. The cabin he’d rented a few miles outside of Eagle Rock embraced those qualities. But even lighting a fire didn’t make the place welcoming. Not that he cared. It had the essentials. And Rigs was all about the bare necessities.

The guards at the front entrance saluted as he walked past. They looked competent enough. Not hardened soldiers, but he’d watched the way they’d handled their weapons before holstering them. That told him they could be counted on to cover his ass if things went south.

While he hoped they wouldn’t have to, Rigs never went into an op without knowing if he had backup he could trust. They weren’t Midnight or Ice, but they’d carry their own weight. That was all that mattered.

Rigs turned left at one of the marble planters then quietly slipped out the back door. The sky still held a tinge of red near the horizon, a spider web of stars starting to poke holes in the indigo sky. He took a moment to breathe in the fresh air. Hints of jasmine and cottonwood drifted on the breeze, infused with a touch of pine. He smiled—a rarity for him lately—and headed for the narrow path that wove through immaculately kept gardens and groomed patches of grass. He’d make a circuit—the same one he’d done a dozen times tonight—then return to the main foyer—steel himself against another barrage of gasps as the people left the auction.

It’s for a good cause. Embrace the suck. Nothing new, there.

He repeated the mantra in his head, turning right at the corner of the building, and smacked into a woman standing with her back to the pathway. He inhaled, juggling both their weight as he took several stumbling steps forward before finally regaining his balance. Soft skin passed beneath his palms as he smoothed his hands down her arms before cupping her elbows and keeping her steady until he knew she wouldn’t fall. The woman grabbed ahold of his forearm for a few more moments, digging her fingers into his muscle, before gradually letting her hand fall to her side.

Did he miss the warmth of her touch?

“Shit. Er—sorry, ma’am. I didn’t see you before I was on top of you.”

Damn, had it sounded sexual other than inside his head? Because for the first time since Ice had dragged his ass out of the rubble amidst a blanket of gunfire, Rigs felt sexual. Maybe not like his old self, but there was a definite stirring in his pants—the kind he hadn’t experienced since before nearly dying. Since simply getting through each day took every ounce of effort. Yet, one touch of her silky flesh beneath his palms, and bam—his dick took notice. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t a full-on boner. Just a twitch. A small surge of blood. But after being basically dead meat between his legs for eighteen months, it felt like a raging hard-on.

Of course, she hadn’t turned and raised her gaze to his, yet. Hadn’t done much of anything other than gasp and breathe. But he knew, in about three seconds, the warm feeling building in his chest would be extinguished. Turn cold and unforgiving like her stare.

She shook her head, inhaling roughly when the motion seemed to shift her balance, again. Rigs stepped closer, holding her tight and praying his dick didn’t decide to swell to full attention. Because there’d be no way to hide it from her. Not with her body hugging his, her ass rubbing against his crotch. Damn, another few passes and he wouldn’t be able to will his growing erection away. Wouldn’t be able to do anything besides apologize after the fact.

The woman steadied herself, her small hands covering his at her waist. “That’s okay. I hadn’t realized I was standing so close to the corner. Guess my count was off.”

Her count was off?

“If I’d been completely focused, I would have noticed you in time to side-step around you.”

She chuckled, gently untangling them then taking a step away as she half turned. “No, really…”

Her voice cut into a gasp as her head whipped around, throwing her off-balance. He caught a glimpse of wide eyes in profile before she tanked to the right. Rigs lunged for her, catching her before she’d tumbled onto the stone path, then tugged her against his chest, again. He splayed one hand across her stomach, the other up by her rib cage as he kept her balanced.

Her heart kicked against his palm, and he didn’t miss the increased rhythm. The shiver that shook through her, or the sound of her frantically drawing in air.

“Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

She shook her head, again, visibly pulling herself together. “No. I just…I thought for a moment there was a flash of…” She sighed then slowly slipped free. “It’s nothing. Thank you.”

Rigs stayed close, sweeping his gaze the length of her. He took the opportunity to study her before she finally turned, and it all fell apart. To take in her blonde hair swept up into some kind of clip, and the silver pair of earrings dangling from dainty lobes. Her black dress skimming her form, flaring out just below her waist. It went over one shoulder, exposing the long sleek line of her neck and the hint of her other shoulder blade. Her pale skin gleamed in the early moonlight, and he wished he could hold on to her a bit longer. Give himself time to memorize the feel of her smooth flesh against his hands. The beat of her heart against his palm.

Instead, he slowly released her then stepped back. She shifted her weight, and the gently flowing skirt swished around her knees, showing off black boots with only an inch of height.

She finally turned, but before he could see what color her eyes were—or hide the left side of his face like he normally did—he caught a scratch of claws on stone. Rigs spun just as a large dog jumped over one of the planters, landing square on his chest. They fell back together, hitting hard. A tongue swept up the side of his face—right across the raised scars—followed by a playful bark.

“No. Blade. Leave it.”

Her voice barely sounded above a whisper, but the dog stilled, turned ever so slightly before retreating, circling her ankles then sitting at her left heel.

Rigs pushed onto his hands, watching her as he shook his head. Just his luck, he’d bumped into one of the dog handlers—maybe one still in training because the dog’s behavior seemed…off. Though, he’d thought all the bomb-sniffing dogs had left once the auction had started.

The woman reached down and clicked a leash on the brute, her other hand rising to her mouth. “Oh my god, are you okay? First, I nearly trip you, and, now, this. I’m so sorry. I’d just let him off to have a bit of a run—he gets nervous around people sometimes, and there’re so many inside. We’re both doing some training—adjusting, really—and we needed some air, but I thought we were alone out here. Did he hurt you?”

Rigs laughed. Fuck, he tried not to, but her words came out as an endless stream, all pushed together as if it had been one long word. And the way she was staring at him—Christ, it knocked him off his feet in a completely different way. No horror. No revulsion. Not even idle curiosity that he got from people who wanted to know how he’d gotten the marks.

No, her face was relaxed and flushed, and so damn pretty, it made his chest hurt. Right in the center. Over his withered, shredded heart. She extended a hand—off to the right and not really close enough to help him up—but he didn’t need it. He rose easily to his feet, brushing the dust off his pants. 

She jerked upward once he’d risen, lips pursed, her gaze searching in front of her. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. He’s a big boy. What was his name?”

She smiled as she angled to better face him, one hand gently stroking the dog’s head as it sat at her feet, tail thumping, tongue lolling out one side. “Blade.”

“Blade. That’s…different.”

“It’s after the movie. The trilogy. Wesley Snipes. Vampires.”

“Right. He was some kind of half-breed savior or something.”

“Anyway, I’m really sorry. I don’t usually let him loose away from home. He gets…excited.”

“And playful. Haven’t known a bomb dog to tackle someone who isn’t carrying explosives.” But maybe the animal just had really good instincts. Could smell that Rigs had made a career out of blowing shit up. For all he knew, he had C4 in his blood. Sweated powder out his skin.

If anything, her smile widened, and he swore he heard her chuckling. “Actually, he’s not one of the bomb dogs.” She fidgeted with the end of the handle. “He used to be. Served two years in Afghanistan, but he was…injured. He recovered,” she added as she scratched Blade’s head, again. “But he’s…got some issues. No one would take him, would even consider trying to retrain him. Except I have this friend, Carl, who’s amazing. He trains animals for movies and law enforcement and for personal assistance, and he’s always rescuing them off of death row—giving them a second chance. He figured we’d make a good match, since I needed…” She sighed. “I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

He didn’t miss the breathy quality to her voice or the hint of flush on her cheeks and neck. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought there was something sparking between them. One of those instant attractions he’d heard about but had never experienced.

“It’s fine. I did nearly bowl you over. So, he’s part of the security here, then? You’re training?”

“Not exactly. We’re just…” She swallowed. “It’s a long story. Anyway, I’m really sorry he knocked you down.”

Rigs narrowed his eyes. There was something different about her. The way she kept tilting her head. The tone of her voice. While he had excellent night vision—maybe not as perfect in his left eye, anymore—the way she was standing with her back to the moonlight, the deep shadows masked most of her expressions, making it hard to get a true reading on her. He kept trying to see what color her eyes were, but he couldn’t make them out in the dim light.

He offered her a smile and prayed he wasn’t simply baring his teeth as his scars pulled at his skin. “No harm done. I hope I didn’t ruin your break.”

“No. I was just about to call him and head back in. If I hide out here much longer, I might never leave.”

She’d said it as a joke. He knew it, but it was painfully obvious there was a healthy dose of truth in her words.

“You’re not a fan of auctions?”

“I’m not a fan of crowds.” She cringed as soon as the words were free before lifting her chin and pursing her lips. “Enjoy your walk. It’s a lovely night. Must be why there were others taking advantage of it earlier.”

“There are others out here?”

“There were. I mean, I heard a lot of footsteps. Scuffing noises. So… But they pretty much stopped after I came out about ten minutes ago.”

Rigs scanned the area. The auction was in full swing. It didn’t make sense that more than one or two of the guests would be walking the grounds. The hairs on his neck prickled.

“I’ll keep an eye out. Perhaps, I’ll see you later. Though, I’ll try not to crash into you, next time.”

The muscle in her jaw clenched, and she looked away. “Right. See you later. Blade, up.”

The dog stood, moving a few steps over with her to a bench that was hidden in the shadows. She turned away from Rigs, fusing with something before shifting back. She had a handle in her left hand, a folded cane in her right.

She seemed to orient herself. “Blade, forward.”

Blade started up the path, walking diligently at her side. Rigs stared after her, unable to do anything other than watch her disappear around the building. Everything shifted into place. Her odd behavior. The dog. Her seeming indifference to his scars. If he hadn’t been half-focused on the way she’d felt in his arms for those precious few moments, or how much he wished he could get her back into them, he would have realized it straight off. Wouldn’t have been an utter ass and told her he’d see her later.

Because his mystery woman wouldn’t see anything later. She was blind.