Can Christmas be the time when Kirby finally stops running and allows himself to fall in love with the man who saves his life?
CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer is cooling his heels in the UK until he can go home. Taking on easy assignments with Bodyguards Inc. seems like a good solution to keep him sane. He’s used to life throwing him curveballs, and it’s just another day at the office when he rescues Kirby Devlin and his niece and nephew. Now he has to keep Kirby and the kids alive and stay professional. Kirby Devlin has one priority; keeping his small family safe. On the run, and facing danger at every turn, Kirby finally runs out of places to hide on a snowy December day at an Edinburgh train station. Stefan comes to the rescue, saves him and the children. Is it possible that Kirby finally has someone to trust?
Now, if only it would be as easy for Kirby to trust Stefan with his heart.
Bodyguards Inc. Series
Buy Links for Print Book – Volume 3
(Incorporating Love’s Design & Kissing Alex)
Multitasking Mommas – 4/5 review – “…This is a lightly written romance and such a delight to read. It was especially awesome to read Kyle and Ross once more who play minor but truly important roles.”
Bike Book Reviews – 5/5 review ** – “…This is a Christmas story with a bit of suspense thrown in and I loved every minute of it! I won’t do spoilers, but grab this book today, you will love it just like I did! Thanks RJ, for a great Holiday Edition to a series I love so much!…”
Diverse Reader ** – “I LOVE Kirby and I’m beyond grateful to Stefan for saving him and the weens lol. This was a gorgeous love story.”
Sexy for Reviews 5/5 review ** – “… Kirby was on the run with little Andy and Louise, having seen their father stabbed and left for dead. An unexpected attack at the train station left Kirby in a bloody mess and Stefan coming to the rescue. … Love’s Design was a great addition to the Bodyguard, Inc. series, with a magical Christmas theme. …”
The tbr Pile – 5 stars – “…As always, this author writes great characters, so real and believable. You get pulled into their lives. This story has enough suspense and action to keep me reading and not wanting to put it down. This is book 5 in the series; you do need to read the series in order. This will let you understand and follow the secondary characters and their interactions. ”
Padme’s Library – 5 stars – “…I will say that Kirby and Stefan may not be my favorite couple working at Bodyguards, Inc but they are still completely and utterly adorable that ranks them near the top…RJ Scott has done it again and this time she’s wrapped it in a big, sexy, hunky, beautiful Christmas bow.”
Rainbow Book Reviews – “…Fans of the series will love Stefan’s story. For those new to the series, it could be read alone, but the stories and characters are interconnected so you wouldn’t be getting a complete picture unless you read them all, which, of course, I strongly encourage you to do. Thanks, RJ, for the great Christmas story of hope, forgiveness, and love.”
MM Good Book Reviews – 5/5 “…Not only do you have danger from different directions, but you have alpha men who protect those they love. Not to mention the fact that when you think of bodyguards, you think of hot men with guns. I always love the strong man who protects, but this one has a little more of a twist. This for me was a lot of fun.”
“What the hell is he doing?” Stefan murmured as the man in the cheap suit moved out of the shadows and back into them again.
Tall, with his hands pressed deep into his jacket pockets, the man crossed from one side of the large empty waiting room to the other. His expression was one of determination, but his posture screamed anger, and it was difficult to tell which was winning from this distance.
Stefan was killing time at Waverley, the train station in Edinburgh, waiting for the train holding his latest babysitting job to depart, and all he could focus on was this one man. Typical that even when he was supposed to be having a quiet time with his Kindle, Stefan spotted shit that just wasn’t right.
Call it boredom, call it a sixth sense, but the man in the suit was up to something. And he was one of three. He had two friends along for the ride: a tall guy and another as wide as he was tall, with his head disappearing into his thick neck. Abruptly, Stefan knew he had been looking at the man in charge of two heavies. Both Tall Guy and Neck Guy had disappeared into the bathrooms five minutes ago and had yet to come back out.
The Boss, as Stefan called him in his head, kept pausing outside the bathrooms, where a sign proclaimed “Cleaning in Progress”. The waiting area was sprawling, drafty and empty of all but a few diehards, probably those waiting for late arrivals, which were mostly delayed, due to snow.
Stefan knew something was going down in there and he fairly itched with the need to get involved.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys,” he muttered to himself. Kyle would kill him if he got involved with something that would call the wrath of MI6 down on them again. As it was, Kyle was trying to calm down the CIA after the whole missing-scientist incident, and almost had them agreeing to take Stefan back so that Stefan could hunt down whoever fucked up and exposed the scientist they’d had under protection.
Three suspicious men in a near-deserted railway station weren’t his problem. His problem was the annoyingly entitled investment banker who was now safely on a train with his next bodyguard, on his way to London. A glance at the board had Stefan wincing. He’d hoped to be gone from the station by now, but the snow was causing delays and some cancelations, and the London train would be the last on the board scheduled to leave, four hours late at nearly 10:00 p.m. The rest of the departures were listed with large signs saying everything had been canceled. No wonder the station was empty. And yes, he was bored.
One thing Stefan Mortimer didn’t do well, was sitting on his ass doing nothing. I’m bored. I need to get laid, and I need to go home. Not necessarily in that order. He’d been stuck in the UK for going on half a year now, and, by necessity, had slipped into working for Kyle at Bodyguards Inc. Not that he needed the money, but he was a man of action, and sitting around with his thumb up his ass was not the way he spent his time.
He sipped at his coffee, and the cold, bitter brew furred his tongue. He’d left it too long to drink while studying the dynamics of the man and his two bodyguards, and the drink hadn’t been that amazing to start with. Brits didn’t know how to make coffee, not like back home.
The man he’d been watching stopped pacing and checked his watch, then, with a brief look around the area, pushed through the bathroom door. He wouldn’t be able to see Stefan from that angle, not properly; to all intents and purposes Stefan looked like he was sleeping and was behind a metal grate enclosing a small area where he was hiding from having to interact with people.
As soon as that bathroom door shut, and with no real conscious decision, Stefan was on his feet, his hand automatically going for his weapon, then falling away when his brain caught up with his muscle memory. Scotland. No guns.
As he walked to the bathroom, he unzipped his jacket and flexed his arms a little to make sure he had full movement. He didn’t know what was happening behind that door, but he might need to think on his feet. Or, he might have to make a big deal out of washing his hands and retreating, if indeed nothing was going on.
He slipped through the door and waited just inside. The bathroom smelled of bleach, and the lights were low. There was a small entry area with long mirrors—two had large cracks in them—hand dryers, and an off-center arch that led through to the cubicles and urinals. That was where the noise was coming from. A rhythmic banging… and a whimper.
Either I’m walking in on an orgy, or shit is going down.
Stefan looked around for a weapon, anything he could use. Short of smashing a mirror, he had nothing, and only in the movies was smashing a mirror a good idea. Last time he’d tried it, he’d cut his arm open. He still had the scar to prove it. Stefan pulled back his shoulders and sauntered around the corner and into the main bathroom as if he had no better place to be. Like he belonged. Pacing Man from outside had his back to Stefan, Neck-Guy the same, but there was no sign of the victim or the third goon.
The third man came out of the last cubicle dragging something—a body—and looked directly at Stefan with a shocked expression. “Private party,” he said, brooking no argument. “Fuck off.”
Stefan slumped a little and made himself look as small and innocent as he could. “I just need to—”
“You need to leave.”
Stefan saw the blood, the body, saw the muscle-bound man turn and walk his way, observed Pacing Man step toward him as well. He knew exactly where they all were.
“What’s wrong?” Stefan asked. “Who’ve you got there? Your boyfriend?”
He knew better than to ask the bad people questions, but this seemed like a wisecracking kind of moment to him and he needed them all coming toward him.
Elephant-Necked Guy got to him first, a meaty hand on his shoulder, gripping hard and attempting to propel Stefan back out of the bathroom. Stefan allowed him to step forward, and then mid-step, when he was off balance, Stefan twisted his leg, caught the man behind the knee, and had him crashing into the urinals. His huge head smacked the porcelain, rendering him unconscious.
“Oops,” Stefan said. “My bad.”
Pacing Man stepped back in shock, and bodyguard two dropped the victim’s lifeless body before assuming a stance, clearly thinking this was coming down to a fight of some sort. Stefan steadied himself, waiting until he was gripped, and he had the second man unconscious at his feet with the judicious use of a bathroom door, a toilet, and a paper dispenser.
That just left Pacing Man.
Who, for fuck’s sake, had a gun on him.
“This is the UK, you know,” Stefan said, his breathing a little heavy. It had been a long time since he’d gotten physical with anyone, and it was showing. “No guns.”
“Fuck you,” Pacing Man said. “Turn around and leave.”
Stefan glanced at the body. Noticed movement, saw eyes open through blood, and shook his head. “Not happening.”
Pacing Man shook his gun. “I’ll shoot you.”
Stefan made a hundred small observations. Pacing Man was pale, a little shaky, the gun not quite so steady, but he had the gleam of something in his eyes, a confidence. Was he high? The victim groaned, made an effort to stand, grabbing at the slick tiled wall to find purchase.
“Help,” the beaten man pleaded.
“Why are you hitting him?” Stefan asked. He didn’t know what was going on here, but a gun against fists wasn’t a fair fight. He didn’t care why the guy on the floor had been beaten, because, whatever the reason for beating someone to a pulp, it didn’t sit right with him. Stefan stepped forward suddenly and Pacing Man reared back, fear in his face, his hand lax, and Stefan relieved him of his gun in the blink of an eye.
Pacing Man’s eyes widened, just before they shut as Stefan slammed his head against the bathroom door. Pacing Man twisted in his hold, taking Stefan by surprise, Stefan’s gun hand and the man’s head getting caught by the door as it slammed on them. Stefan felt the agonizing pain of mashed muscles and skin at the same time as Pacing Man slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Which left only Stefan and the victim awake.
Stefan leaned over and helped the bloody man stand, taking his weight even as they stumbled back against the wall.
“Help me,” the man said.
“Trying, buddy, really trying.” He attempted to hold the man upright though his wrist throbbed. He knew the pain would ease in a minute—he’d had injuries like this before—but, just at this moment, it hurt like a bitch.
The man exhaled noisily and wiped his face with his sleeve, blood smearing over pale, freckled skin.
“I need to get them,” he muttered.
“What’s your name?” Stefan began to move them out of the bathroom area.
“Help me,” the man said again.
Stefan helped him over the bodies on the floor; Elephant-Necked Guy was mumbling and groaning, and they only had a few minutes to get out of the bathroom before Stefan would have to hurt his fists again.
He reached awkwardly for the dropped gun and placed it in the small of his back. They needed to get the fuck out of here. He wasn’t sure he’d be up to taking on the big guy in there with only one hand in use and holding up the victim too, and he sure as hell wasn’t using a gun. “What’s your name?”
“Kirby,” the victim said.
“Okay, Kirby, let’s get you out of here.”
They made it out of the bathroom and out to the waiting room. Luckily for Stefan and Kirby, it was as empty as it was five minutes ago. Swiftly, Stefan moved Kirby along, but then Kirby balked and stopped.
“Wait,” he said on a painful exhale.
“What? No waiting. We need to get you to a hospital.” Hell, we need to get me to a hospital.
“Please,” Kirby whispered. He yanked himself away from Stefan, and the only thing stopping him from hitting the floor was the departures board support.
Stefan grabbed him to stop him from falling, intensely aware of the blood all over Kirby’s sweater and jacket. Kirby was bleeding, but from God knew where. Stefan had seen a cop here earlier, doing his rounds, or maybe it was a security guard. They’d exchanged nods, but the man was nowhere to be seen now.
“The hospital,” Stefan said firmly. He’d call the cops once he knew Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally.
“No.” Kirby shook his head, his eyes closing. “Help me.” Using Stefan as a crutch, he lean-dragged himself away from the support.
Stefan sighed noisily. He had half an eye on the bathroom door behind them and half an eye on every other fucking thing. Who the hell was this Kirby guy, and why were three men—well, one at least—beating on him?
“Help you how? You need a hospital.”
“No, they’ll be killed. Please.”
Who? Who’ll be killed? “What do you need me to do?”
“To the door, to get them,” Kirby mumbled.
They made it to a side corridor, and a door marked Staff Only.
Kirby leaned on the door. “Thank you.”
“What’s in there?” Stefan asked. Kirby’s thank-you sounded suspiciously like a dismissal. “Drugs? Is this a drugs thing?”
Kirby shook his head, and Stefan took the time to catalog the contusions under the blood. The blood on his face was from a split lip and a wicked-looking cut over one eye, and it had matted the long dark hair that fell around his face. He was skinny, short, and weighed nothing, but there was a fire in his bright emerald eyes.
“Thank you,” he said again and then waited for Stefan to leave.
“Not going anywhere.” Stefan was following this through to find out what the hell was hidden in the room. He had a gun in his possession, a man who’d been beaten, and three goons who were clearly after something. Stefan wasn’t letting this go.
A hundred thoughts must have passed through Kirby’s head, and they all telegraphed in his expression. Fear, anger, and finally resignation—at least those were the ones that Stefan read.
“Who the hell are you?” Kirby’s words were mumbled around a swelling mouth.
Stefan thought on his feet and pulled out the ID that he never left at home, realizing at the last minute that he’d have to reach across his body, because his right hand was way past sore. “Stefan Mortimer, CIA.” He waved it in front of Kirby, who grabbed at it and held it still.
“Fuck,” Kirby muttered.
“So, tell me what’s going on?”
Kirby leaned back against the door, and he pushed a hand into his pocket.
Stefan tensed. What was Kirby trying to retrieve? He only relaxed when Kirby pulled out a security card, which he pressed against the keypad.
“I stole a card.” Kirby wasn’t apologizing, merely explaining. The door lock released, and Kirby went into the room, with Stefan close behind. They shut the door and Stefan flicked on the lights. He didn’t know what he would see, but when boxes moved of their own accord, he tensed. What the hell?
Kirby stumbled toward the boxes, fell to his knees, and gathered two small children into his arms. Stefan felt himself go slack-jawed.
Not drugs, then.
The little girl was making that noise Stefan’s nieces made when they were just about to go into full-on, blubbering tears, and Kirby held her closer, muttering words under his breath but gripping the small girl tightly.
Stefan stepped forward to ask questions, He stopped himself. Someone else would deal with this; someone who was better placed to care about the man who had been beaten up. The same man who held these two children like they were the most precious things in the world.
And now the little girl was sobbing into Kirby’s neck. Stefan sighed inwardly, his innate sense of making things right pushing to the front.
“What is this?” he asked, glancing back to the door, but there was no danger, nothing chasing them. No one had seen them come into the room.
Kirby said nothing.
“Kirby?” Stefan crouched down by the three of them, reaching out a hand toward the crying girl before drawing it back.
She was all about Kirby and probably wouldn’t want a stranger talking to her. Finally, Kirby released his tight hold and opened his eyes—deep, remorse-filled green. He made to stand, off balance with the added weight of the girl and what looked like a slightly older boy hanging around his neck. Stefan held out a hand, but Kirby managed to stand without his help. Evidently he was used to the extra ballast.
“I am so sorry,” he said. He had a soft Scottish accent, more obvious now he was calmer. Maybe Kirby was from Edinburgh itself, or at least close by. “I had to leave Louise and Andy in here when I saw them.”
“You mean the guys looking to take you out?”
Kirby shook his head. “You shouldn’t get involved. We’ll be fine now.” Stefan saw he was talking directly to the young boy who nodded mutely. This must be Andy.
“You might have a concussion.” Stefan’s field training kicked in. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
Kirby smiled up at Stefan, although he grimaced with the pain of it and the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I don’t feel dizzy, just sore.”
Stefan wondered how much of a lie that was. Was he used to being beaten up? Hell, he couldn’t be more than a buck-sixty and at least six inches shorter than Stefan was.
“Just keep an eye on dizziness and feeling sick,” Stefan finally offered.
The little girl’s sobs had now reduced to hiccups, and huge blue eyes peeped at Stefan over Kirby’s shoulder: wet eyes with long lashes and tears sparkling in them.
“You’re bleeding,” Andy whispered. He touched Kirby’s face. “Did McLeod do that to you?”
Andy added something with resigned perception. “Was it Bull or Tommy?”
Kirby nodded. “It’s okay, though,” he said. “This man helped me, helped us.”
Andy slipped out of Kirby’s hold and looked up at Stefan.
Stefan was tall, a couple of inches over six feet and aware that he was probably intimidating, considering his white sweater was darkened with Kirby’s blood. He copied what Kirby had done, crouching low again, and held out his good hand. “Hello.”
Andy held out a hand and shook Stefan’s gently, his touch light and wary. “I’m Andy, and this is my sister Louise. She’s four, nearly five, and I’m seven.”
“Nice to meet you, Andy. What do you say we get Kirby to the hospital, huh?”
“We’re not going to the hospital,” Kirby snapped.
Andy winced at the harsh and unyielding tone of it. “No hospital if Uncle Kirby says no.” He pulled back his thin shoulders as he spoke.
Stefan didn’t like to see a kid wince that way, in fear, and he recognized the bravery that followed. He looked at Kirby, at the blood, at the pale wash of heat on his high cheekbones and the pain that bracketed his eyes. “Yes, we are. You, me, the kids, are all getting checked out.”
“I can’t,” Kirby said a little desperately. “If we do….”
“He’ll find us,” Andy finished.
Stefan looked from Kirby to the little boy and back. “Who will? One of the guys I knocked out?”
Andy’s eyes widened. “You did? All of them? Bull as well?”
“Is Bull the big guy with no neck?” Stefan asked.
Andy nodded. “Aye.”
“Yeah,” Stefan said. “Even him.”
Andy’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Kirby moved between Stefan and Andy. He evidently wanted to cut off the fledgling hero worship. “We need to go,” he said. “The bairns and I, we need to go. Now.”
Stefan translated the word bairns to mean children. “Sorry, can’t do that,” he replied. “I need some answers, and I need them now before I call Security.”
If anything, Kirby’s face paled further at those words and Stefan saw his gaze dart guiltily to the door.
“I’m just taking my niece and nephew for a break,” Kirby said quickly and started to brush past Stefan.
“I don’t believe you.” Stefan gripped Kirby’s arms, startled at the sheer fear in the other man’s eyes and wondering whether, if he looked hard enough, he could find a glimmer of guilt.
“Let. Me. Go.” Kirby’s words had an edge to them, an edge of violence, and it was all Stefan could do not to scoop up the kids there and then. Violence in a man with children this small didn’t bear thinking about. “I don’t know who you are, but you need to leave me and the bairns alone,” Kirby said firmly, drawing himself as tall as he was able. “He can’t have them, and I swear if you try anything, I will call Security myself.”
“Who can’t have them? Is someone after you? Is it Child Protection? What are you trying to do?” Stefan asked.
“Leave us alone,” Kirby forced out, rubbing soothing motions into the girl’s back as she whimpered at his raised voice.
Stefan realized the more Kirby talked, the more involved Stefan became. Clearly there was an agenda here, and Stefan wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to know why a man and two children were being chased down. What was Kirby’s connection to the kids? And who the hell were Bull, Tommy, and Pacing Man? Kirby would be going to the hospital if Stefan had his way, but first things first, Stefan needed to assess this situation.
“I’m calling Security,” he decided. Something was wrong here, and he had to get the authorities involved.
Stefan didn’t see Kirby move or put the little girl down, but he sure as hell felt the punch that snapped his head back. He immediately went on the defensive, grabbing Kirby, twisting him around, and pressing him to the wall.
Kirby yelped in pain, but Stefan wasn’t letting go just yet. He felt tiny fists on his thighs.
“Leave him alone, let him go!”
Both kids were thumping him. Stefan loosened his hold, watching as Kirby slid down the wall, and the two children moved to stand between him and Kirby.
“Please,” Kirby said, “No police.”
The way he said police—poe-leece—was so soft, and pleading was clear in every cell of him.
“Don’t touch my uncle,” the boy snapped, fierceness in his expression.
Stefan held up his hands. “I won’t touch him.”
“Let us go,” Kirby murmured. “Go away so I can find somewhere safe.”
Stefan thought on his feet and crouched again, so he was on the same level as the kids. “I can help you, but you have to tell me something first.”
The boy frowned but didn’t lower his fists or step away from Kirby. “What?” he asked suspiciously.
“Is he really your uncle?”
The frown didn’t drop. “Yes.” The boy nudged the girl. “Tell him, Lou.”
“Tell him what?” The girl, Lou, didn’t have her fists up. Her eyes were bright with tears, but she was as brave as her brother, standing as a barrier between Kirby and Stefan.
“Tell him you want to stay with Uncle Kirby.”
She didn’t answer in words; she nodded, then slipped back and into Kirby’s arms.
Stefan eyed the tableau critically. “Okay, I’ll get you all away from here, as long as your uncle promises to see a doctor.”
“I will,” Kirby said. “Let us go, and I will go straight to a hospital when I can.”
Stefan didn’t like to point out the contradiction in going straight there and the added “when I can.” He would cross that bridge when he came to it.
“This is how it’s going to go,” Stefan began. “We’re leaving.” He stared past the small boy and into Kirby’s green eyes, wondering what kind of man Kirby was.
“We’re getting a train,” Kirby said.
“Not tonight, you’re not. They shut the station down, issues with snow.”
“Shit.” The curse was loud and made Lou wince.
“Why do those men want you, Kirby? What did you do, and whose kids are these?” There, that was all the questions Stefan had at this moment.
Kirby stared at him, holding the girl tight. Maybe Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally, but he looked like shit. Kirby stumbled to stand, using the wall to support himself. Stefan took a step closer, and, in response, Kirby moved to one side, his hands on Andy’s shoulders, his legs hitting boxes. He looked scared and defiant, and he stepped forward so he was between Stefan and the children as much as he could be.
Andy still had his hands clenched at his sides, and there was a scowl on his face. “McLeod hurt Daddy, stuck a knife in him and made him fall down,” Andy said. “We saw him do it.”
Stefan looked from Andy to Kirby and put two and two together immediately. The kid’s dad was knifed, and the uncle was taking them from Edinburgh? Jesus, this was worse than he thought. “The children are witnesses to something?”
Kirby nodded mutely, and the horror of what was happening here hit Stefan. This was stupid; they needed to call the cops.
“An’ Uncle Kirby was keeping us safe,” Andy added. “Don’t you hurt him.”
Stefan shook his head, as struck dumb as Kirby was. The pain in his wrist was more of a dull ache, so it clearly wasn’t that bad. Either that or adrenaline was numbing him. Wouldn’t be the first time. He had to trust Kirby and his niece and nephew were in danger, and this was what Stefan did best—he handled threats, and he looked out for people.
“We need to get you out of here. Where’s your car?”
Kirby blinked at him. “We were going to…. I don’t have a car.”
“Okay. I have one. I’m in the main parking area.” He stopped talking and instead internalized all the steps needed to get Kirby and the children to his waiting car and then the authorities. By now the three men he’d dealt with would be awake. “Follow me and stay behind me. Okay?”
“Uncle Kirby?” Andy said from behind him.
“It’s okay, Andy. You remember the rules.”
“Aye, run, and if they catch me, I scream right loud, like a girl.”
The kid looked so earnest. His short dark hair was in a messy pile of sticking-up bits, his eyes were damp, but he’d spoken with complete determination.
Kirby nodded. “And stay with me.”
Andy looked up at Stefan. “You a bad guy who’s good?”
What Stefan landed himself in, he didn’t know, but hell if he was abandoning one skinny man with intriguing green eyes and two small kids.
A bad guy was not who he was. He was a typical good guy, who was quite happy being the bad guy if it kept innocent civilians safe. That was who Stefan Mortimer was.
And he was excellent at his job.
Kirby held Louise tight and eased over one shoulder the backpack he’d left in the room with his niece and nephew. The burn was intense. Tommy had hit his mark each time. God knows what would have happened if Bull had joined in. Kirby should thank the heavens that Stefan had found them before he ended up a bloody mess or worse on a bathroom floor. They wanted Andy and Louise, and there was no way Kirby would crack and tell them where they were.
“Come on, Andy, he won’t hurt us,” Kirby lied. How the hell would he know what this superhero was going to do? He was CIA, but that wasn’t a cop, so he wouldn’t know who McLeod was, wouldn’t know how bad this situation was for Andy and Louise. He held out a hand to Andy, which the child took immediately.
“I’ll take the boy,” Stefan ordered, attempting to wrest Kirby’s grip from Andy.
Andy shouted a sharp “No!”
“What the hell? Stop it! For God’s sake, you’re scaring him,” Kirby snarled, his free hand coming out to block Stefan’s movement.
They stood staring at each other.
“I’m scaring him?” Stefan sounded incredulous. “How can I be scaring him? I’m trying to help him.”
“Just be gentle.” Kirby’s voice was determined, firm, but it wasn’t enough to get Stefan to stand down. At this point, Kirby wasn’t sure that anything he could say would make Stefan stand down. Kirby’s voice was low, his hand raised, palm upward, entreating Stefan not to make a fuss. As Stefan moved again, Kirby switched suddenly from simply telling to instant pleading. “Please, don’t hurt him. Just help us out of here.”
Stefan looked confused for a moment, and then, more carefully, he held out his hands. Andy looked from Kirby to Stefan before accepting the lift up. He curled into Stefan’s neck.
“Uncle Kirby?” Louise’s voice was so low that Stefan almost missed it. “I’m thirsty.”
The little girl was oblivious to most of what had happened today, but however used to the violence she was, she had to be scared and uncertain, and in turn, Kirby had to be the strong one. It broke his heart to hear her soft voice. “We’ll get you a drink soon, sweetie. You’re going to be okay?”
She nodded. Then it was clearly time to go. With the silent impasse, the tension curling between the two men, Kirby waited as Stefan opened the door a crack to peer outside.
“It’s clear,” Stefan announced.
Kirby wanted to ask him if he was sure, but he didn’t. Stefan was CIA; he must know what he was doing. More so than Kirby, general fuck-up and a waste of space, would.
Stefan turned back to him. “New rules. You stay with me, you don’t run off, we find the cops, and we sort this out.”
Kirby’s world shifted. “No, I can’t. We can’t. Please.” If the cops knew he was here, if they knew about McLeod, and Robbie, they would take one look at Kirby and take Andy and Louise. He wasn’t going to let that happen.
“What?” Stefan frowned.
“No cops, please. Just let me get them safe.”
Then what? Kirby asked himself. He didn’t even know what the fuck he was doing. Getting a train from Edinburgh to freaking anywhere hadn’t gone well so far after the snow had canceled so many departures.
“We need to report this,” Stefan persisted.
“I’ll explain everything. Just get us away.” Pain knifed through him from his chest, which Louise’s weight pressed on, and he couldn’t help the gasp of pain. “Please.”
Stefan stared at him, incredulous, and clearly two seconds away from calling emergency services and bringing the full weight of the law down on the idiot who thought he could fix everything.
“I’m not promising anything.”
“Then I will take them and run.”
“Fu—freaking idiot.” Stefan corrected his cursing. “People want to hurt you.”
“Not as much as I want to hurt them,” Kirby snapped.
Stefan’s lips tightened, He relaxed and exhaled noisily. He’d clearly read something in Kirby’s expression, probably the evidence that Kirby was not taking this to the cops.
“Okay, but the minute I think—”
“Thank you,” Kirby interrupted.
Stefan peered back out of the door. “Walk normally,” he said under his breath. “Hide your face.”
Kirby didn’t argue. He tried to walk as normally as he could despite every part of him screaming that he should run fast and far. He hid the bruises on his face and the blood that pooled at his throat behind Louise’s long hair and hoped to hell no one stopped them.
They made it out of the waiting area, and Kirby refused to look at the door to the bathrooms. What if McLeod was awake, or Tommy and Bull? With what Andy and Louise knew, those guys weren’t going to let them get away.
They crossed two roads before entering the parking lot. Kirby wanted to look around them, wanted to ensure Robbie and his goons weren’t waiting for them, but he didn’t. With absolute focus, he followed Stefan, walking just a few feet behind him, fixated entirely on the slightly limping walk that Stefan had going on.
That man was a goddamn hero; he’d dispatched McLeod and Tommy—not to mention Bull—in just a few simple movements. He was capable and clever, and he’d get them out of here. They reached a large black 4×4, and the sound of the doors unlocking was loud in the nearly empty part of the parking lot.
With quick motions, both men had the back doors open. Only then did Kirby realize there were no car seats. He closed his eyes briefly. They needed car seats. His eyes caught Stefan’s, and he knew that was the least of their worries. He strapped Louise in, watched as Stefan did the same with Andy, and then they climbed into the front.
“Please drive safely,” Kirby murmured. “Don’t hurt the bairns.”
Stefan cast him a quick glance that spoke volumes. If looks could kill, Kirby would be dead already.
Efficiently, Stefan had them out of the parking lot and onto the main road until the glow of the city receded and they were on the M8 driving southwest. Stefan kept checking his mirror.
“Are we being followed?” Kirby asked.
“No, I can’t see that we are.”
“You can drop us anywhere.” Kirby looked back at Andy and Louise, both dozing in the belts. “Soon. I don’t like them in the car without seats.”
“Seems like the least of your worries,” Stefan commented evenly. “Want to tell me what the fuck just happened?”
Kirby shook his head and faced front. “Drop us off at a bus stop or something.”
“Of course I can do that,” Stefan said.
Kirby sighed with relief; he’d been expecting Stefan to argue. “Thank you.”
“As soon as you tell me where you’re going. What bus stop should I be dropping you at?”
Shit. Kirby should have known that Stefan wasn’t letting this lie. He thought on his feet. “I have family in Jedburgh,” he lied.
“No, you don’t.”
“Kirby, stop. I’m not dropping you or the children anywhere for some freaking bus at nearly eleven at night. It’s freezing out there. You’d last five minutes.” They stopped at a junction, and Stefan crossed his hands on the wheel as they waited for the lights to change. He seemed to be favoring his right hand, and it looked swollen. Had he hurt it trying to help Kirby? “Stop messing about. What do you need?”
“I got that. What do you need?”
“Sleep. Somewhere for the children to sleep, somewhere I can clean up. To think.”
Stefan nodded. “Finally, the truth.” He pulled into a gas station and cut the engine. “Stay here. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Kirby nodded mutely. Where the hell would he go? Take Andy and Louise and run. But run where? Stefan had stopped in the middle of freaking nowhere, despite being on the main road. The snow was persistent but not heavy, the roads were still white with it, and anyone passing would be unlikely to pick them up. Was Stefan in there calling the police?
Stefan came back pretty quickly, with a carrier bag of stuff that he stowed next to Kirby’s seat. Kirby didn’t ask about the police; he had to trust Stefan. They left the service station and took the next road winding out into the countryside, with Stefan visibly looking for something in particular. They ended up driving for about ten minutes, and the outskirts of a small town began to emerge on the otherwise deserted road. The sign read “Livingstone,” and there was a Premier Inn. Stefan went in, paid, then drove to the rear of the hotel, parking the car under the trees by the snowdrifts against the wall, around a corner and out of sight of anyone happening to pass.
The man who had saved them had skills.
“We can go in the rear.” Stefan took the carrier bag, opened the back door and scooped up a dozing Andy, who murmured in his sleep, then woke and wriggled to be let down. Stefan let him slip to the ground as Kirby picked up the sleeping Louise. Soon the four of them had made their way through the rear entrance with their key card, and up one flight of stairs to room 210.
Kirby didn’t know what he was doing. Why did he trust this man? What secrets would he have to keep to stay safe? Fuck, how were they in a hotel room with a strange man?
What had happened to keeping his head down and staying alive?