Enjoy. xo

 

Chapter One

Troy

 

“You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.” Lincoln Landry smirks over the rim of his coffee mug, quite pleased with himself.

But really, when is he not?

I run a hand across my forehead, lamenting my decision not to work from home today. I could be in my sweats at my desk in the guest room, eating buttery cinnamon toast—alone. Instead, I’m here with this guy.

“It’s too early for this shit,” I say.

“Come on, Castelli. You have to admit that I’m onto something here.”

“All you’re onto, Landry, is proving you need a hobby.”

“I have plenty of hobbies.”

“He’s not lying,” Ford Landry says, coming into my office and closing the door behind him. He takes a seat across from me beside his brother.

Morning sunlight streams through my office windows, filling the space with a warm glow. The cloudless sky is the perfect shade of blue, and birds chirp just outside the glass. The day held so much promise until Lincoln walked in twenty minutes ago.

“Your wife just called,” Ford tells his brother.

Lincoln bristles. “Why is my wife calling you?”

“Because it seems that you bought me a new golf club for my birthday, but Danielle found it in the garage this morning. She wanted me to know she’d take it to Ellie this afternoon.”

“Dammit,” Lincoln groans, shaking his head. “How did she find it?”

“One of your kids lost a ball, and she was looking for it.” Ford grins. “Found the club instead.”

I rock back in my desk chair. “Something tells me that club isn’t Ford’s.”

“Hell no, it’s not Ford’s,” Lincoln says, glancing over his shoulder. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Ford says, laughing. “How could I be offended when I’m going to get so much entertainment watching Danielle fuck with you over this?”

“She was just on my case about how my sports equipment is taking over the garage and made me promise I wouldn’t buy anything else until I sorted everything I already owned. But then I saw an ad for a titanium driver. The moment I saw that beautiful shaft, I knew I had to have it. Even the screws are sexy.”

“Good thing, because it sounds like that screw is all the screwing you’ll be getting for a while,” Ford says.

“Maybe, but it was worth it. I can imagine that shaft—”

I laugh. “Sounds like a personal problem to me.”

Ford stretches his legs out in front of him, clearly amused. “So you decided to tell her it was a gift for me?”

“She saw the purchase on the credit card bill. I panicked. I was thinking on my feet.”

I snort. “Well, we know that never works well for you.”

“What doesn’t work well for me? Thinking on my feet?” Lincoln asks.

“Thinking on your feet isn’t your problem. Thinking at all is usually a struggle for you, though.”

Ford chuckles, much to his brother’s dismay. Lincoln rolls his eyes and turns his attention to his phone. Ford motions for me to give him a minute while he, too, checks his device.

I shuffle through the stack of papers I gathered before Lincoln’s grand entrance and arrange them in order of importance. The only sound aside from the birds outside is Lincoln’s fingertips frenziedly tapping out texts, presumably to his wife.

Danielle won’t be pissed. Not for long, anyway. In the fifteen-ish years I’ve known Lincoln—since the day I left the military and Ford’s family offered me a job—I’ve realized no one can stay mad at him long.

Not even me—and sometimes I try.

“Looks like you need to strap on that second parachute and head home,” I say, winking at Lincoln when he looks up.

He narrows his eyes, but his frustration melts away into laughter. “I can’t even be pissed at you. Well done.”

“What did I miss?” Ford asks.

“I was trying to explain to him that he needs to get a life,” Lincoln says. “He needs to try new things. Live a little.”

I start to fire back that I have a life—one that I like a whole damn lot—but my phone buzzes in front of me. When I see the name, I swipe it off my desk.

“Excuse me for a second,” I say, unlocking the screen. A ghost of a smile tugs at my lips as I read the message.

 

Dahlia: Good morning, sunshine! I saw your truck in the parking lot. First, learn how to park. You’re supposed to stay between the lines, not have the back end halfway into the other parking spot. Don’t drive a big truck if you can’t control it. Second, can you swing by and see me before you leave?

 

Ford and Lincoln’s conversation fades into the background.

 

Me: No.

 

I imagine my assistant’s freckles pulling together across the bridge of her cute little button nose and the gasp she probably hissed in exasperation when she read my two-lettered response. Amusement settles against my lips.

 

Dahlia: <frustrated emoji> Let’s not start the week off like this.

 

I don’t respond. Instead, I fight a smile and watch for the flurry of texts I know are coming.

Three … two … one … 

She never fails.

 

Dahlia: I need your reports from last week.

Dahlia: And a copy of your new driver’s license.

Dahlia: You DID get your license renewed, didn’t you? <worried emoji>

Dahlia: I set a reminder on your calendar on Friday. You can’t just ignore my reminders!

Dahlia: DAMMIT, TROY. DON’T IGNORE ME

Dahlia: I hope Lincoln is in your office and he’s driving you batshit crazy.

 

My tongue runs along my bottom lip as I grin.

 

Dahlia: My grandma always said not to use the word hate because it was too powerful, but if I could guarantee she wasn’t turning over in her grave, I’d pop it right into this conversation. Instead— I HEAVILY dislike you right now.

 

Me: What’s new?

Dahlia: <crying emoji> Why do you do this to me?

 

Because it’s so much fun.

“Everything okay?” Ford asks.

“Yeah.” I set my phone down. “Sorry about that.”

Ford gives me a curious look, but Lincoln smirks. Asshole.

“Although the parachute analogy was rough,” Ford says, “I’m going to use it as a jumping-off point.”

“No pun intended,” Lincoln says.

“That doesn’t make sense, Lincoln,” I say.

“Yes, it does. He’s using the parachute as a jumping-off point. Like you’d jump out of a plane. Get it?”

I shake my head. “No. I don’t. But let’s move on.” I turn my attention back to Ford. “What are we jumping into?”

He shifts in his seat. Instinctively, I move in mine.

There isn’t a thing in the world that I wouldn’t do for Ford. I owe him everything—most of all, my loyalty. But I know him well enough to know when he’s about to say something he knows I won’t like.

Like now.

Ford clears his throat. “I’m sending Calvin to Los Angeles to handle the Clementine project.”

What?”

“I know.” He sighs. “Don’t be mad.”

A slow chill snakes down my spine. Take a deep breath, Castelli.

“Don’t be mad? I’m not mad,” I say. “Because I know you’re going to tell me you have a new client that you need me to handle, and I’m fine with that. Not a problem.”

Lincoln frowns.

“You do have a choice.” Ford eyes me warily.

“Everybody has choices. Just like you have one right now.”

I stare at him, trying to cut through our professional relationship and hit him in the we were friends in a combat zone friendship. It might come across a little more aggressive than I intend. Lucky for Ford, or for me since he is the boss, he doesn’t call me out on it.

“Let’s remember I don’t have a say in anything,” Lincoln says, holding his hands at his chest in defense. “I’m just here.”

I turn to him and lift a brow. “Why are you here exactly?”

“Moral support.”

“Moral support?” Ford asks. “I’m giving Troy a choice of assignments, not firing him. He doesn’t need your moral support.”

Lincoln scoffs. “You’re the one who said Troy was going to be pissed. Maybe I’m here to offer you moral support in case he decides to use his particular skill set to force your hand.”

Ford volleys back at him, getting a quick retort from Lincoln. I glance at my phone.

 

Dahlia: Are you coming to see me or not?

Dahlia: Theo came by to see me, and I don’t even work directly with him.

Dahlia: I’m glad someone likes me.

Dahlia: Maybe I’ll ask Becca if she wants to trade—you for Theo.

 

I chuckle under my breath, my fingers flying across the screen. I stop myself and read through the text before I hit send. Thank God.

 

Me: Tell Theo to go fuck himself and to stay out of your office.

 

I backspace over the words and exhale sharply, hoping my cheeks aren’t as flushed as I think they are.

Dahlia Lovelace makes me come unglued. She’s everything that gets under my skin. She’s habitually late. She pokes every button she can find to irritate me. The woman is always fucking happy.

And she’s wildly intelligent, capable of anything, and so damn beautiful that I can’t see straight.

Working alongside her for the past two years has been a bigger challenge than trying to keep the world’s biggest pop star safe. I remind myself daily that she’s forbidden—untouchable. Even if crossing the line with my assistant wasn’t completely unprofessional, I couldn’t do that to her. Not with the shit I carry.

I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy.

 

Dahlia: Don’t make it hard, Troy. <winking emoji>

 

I imagine her kissable pout pressed together in a cheeky grin as she typed those words. Don’t make it hard? Too late.

“So what are my options?” I ask as if I hadn’t checked out of our conversation for a minute and as if I don’t already know the answer. “Let’s get this over with.”

Ford’s jaw sets, bracing for impact. “Your first choice is to work with Laina Kelley’s team for another six weeks.”

I knew it. “I don’t understand why I have to contend with all of that pop star bullshit every fucking time.”

“Because she specifically requests you,” Ford says. “She thinks you’re a hero.”

Come on. I gave her a ride when she fled her wedding—something I was paid to do, by the way. It’s hardly heroic.”

Ford’s look reminds me I didn’t just drive her away from the church. I also defused a situation with her movie star ex, physically removed her asshole father from her property, and took a bullet for her—thank God for bulletproof vests—last month.

“You know, there are people who call me a hero, too.” Lincoln nods proudly. “Sometimes, you just have to take the compliment.”

I fold my hands on the table over my phone. It buzzes against my palms with an incoming text that I have to ignore. “Of course, you know what I mean. Saving lives and saving home runs from center field. Same thing.”

“I know you don’t love this option,” Ford says, ignoring my stab at his brother.

“Ford, I’d almost rather be assigned to Lincoln’s security team—”

“Hey!”

“—than to have to go back to Laina’s,” I continue. “She’s not the problem. She’s great, and I really like her husband. He’s good shit. But every time she walks outside a building, there’s so much screaming, crying, and … goofiness.” I sigh at the thought of contending with that again. “What about Ezra? He’d be great. He loves that atmosphere.”

“Ezra is the lead on Graham’s team now,” Ford says.

“No one’s going after our brother,” Lincoln says, snorting. “G would bore them to death. He’s his own personal defense system. Just tell him to start talking if someone comes at him. They’ll leave after two sentences. Tell him to talk fast, and he’s golden.”

As much as I don’t want to laugh at Lincoln and feed his ego, I do.

“Fine.” Ford shrugs. “I can call Sebastian back from his post with the Abbotts as their travels will be over and they’ll return to normal detail. Laina is comfortable with Sebastian. But if I do that, you’re taking option two.”

“Which is …”

“You’re taking a vacation.”

I stare at him, unblinking. “Is that why you sent Lincoln here this morning to discuss living life with parachutes—to try to set the stage somehow?”

Ford lifts a brow. “Do you really think I’d send Lincoln here to butter you up?”

“Yeah, good point.” I push back into my chair. “I don’t need a vacation, Ford.”

“You haven’t taken time off in years,” Ford says. “I’m starting to worry about you. Everyone needs a break.”

“Not me. Vacations mean sitting around and doing nothing. That means too much time on my hands to think and ruminate about life.”

And if anyone should understand that, it’s you, Ford. We exchange a silent look that only the two of us understand.

“Atlas comes off Laina’s detail on Monday,” Ford says. “You have until Friday to decide whether you’re going to Nashville with her team or on vacation.” He levels his gaze with mine. “I need you healthy, man. Please consider the vacation.”

My breathing grows shallow, and the room stills.

This has been a recurring conversation over the past eighteen months, and I’ve managed to weasel my way out of it each time. But I’ve known this day was coming—when Ford takes a hard stand. And now, here we are.

Once Ford and I retired from the military, the only thing that kept my life from falling apart was the opportunities the Landrys gave me. They took me from my lowest point to … this.

I never imagined that I’d be driving around fancy cars carrying Ford’s brother to events as the governor of Georgia. Who was I to be wearing expensive suits day in and day out? How did I manage to be the right-hand man to the premiere security company in the United States?

That all happened because of Ford. He saved my life, both in and out of the military. And for that, I’ll always be there for him … even if it means taking jobs I don’t love.

“I have a couple of meetings today,” Ford says, standing. Lincoln gets to his feet, too. “Want to ride with me? We can get some lunch on the way back.”

“Can I come?” Lincoln asks. “I don’t want to go home yet.”

Ford’s shoulder bumps his brother.

“Sure,” I say. “Let me take care of a few things in here first.”

“Not a problem. I have a couple of things to do, anyway.” He opens the door but turns back to me. “Oh—hey. One more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Stop in and see Dahlia. She said she thought your phone might be dead this morning.” Ford grins.

Of course, she did. “Sure thing.”

I get to my feet, straighten my tie, then slide my phone into my pocket. Something stirs in the pit of my stomach, sending a burst of energy rippling through my veins.

Lincoln and I might not be that different after all. We’re both afraid of the women in our lives. Just for very, very different reasons.

 

 

See what happens when Troy goes to see Dahlia here. 

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