“What about the children? What about the trafficking?” I stared at the smiling face of August Fox with his small family and couldn’t align what I saw with the man who’d sent me and Danvers out on his two shipments. That man—Mitchell De La Cruz—had ice in his veins, an evil about him that I hadn’t seen through.
Nik through me a look that spoke volumes—somehow he knew something I didn’t, but it wasn’t him that explained. That would be Kaden.
“We royally fucked up August's case.” Kaden said.
“Those two separate lorries of kids were supposed to be his thing, his next step up the cartel ladder.”
“He was going to sacrifice those kids just to—”
“We don’t know that.”
A shiver ran down my spine—was August Fox a good guy, or was he so deep undercover that he no longer had a moral compass? “He shot Danvers.”
Kayden raised an eyebrow, “that’s what I would have done if I wanted to keep my cover clean. Do you know how many children were lost to what Danvers allowed to happen? How much product ended up on the streets because of that asshole? He broke every single cardinal law he’d vowed to uphold; he was collateral damage to what August had to do.”
Nik cleared his throat, “It’s not that simple—”
“Yeah, it is.” Kayden snapped, and Nik and I exchanged looks. Would I have shot Danvers in cold blood? Could I ever go that far?
What if it was Ben who was missing? What if it was Ben and Josh I needed to find? What if their lives depended on me getting Danvers out of the picture and scoring points with the bad guys?
I closed my eyes briefly, and when I opened them, Nik was looking at me, and he nodded. He was married, and I didn’t know much past that, but the shared glance spoke volumes.
For them, we would kill.
“What else is on there?” I asked when the silence became uncomfortable.
“Names, dates, narcotics and weapons deliveries, a hundred small bits of information that is enough to indict several leading members of the cartel, but only the lieutenants. He wants us to wait, he wants a month, he says he can get to the person at the top of it all, but he needs a Sanctuary agent to get his daughter.”
“He’s found her?”
Okay. The selfish, exhausted, part of me wanted time with Josh and Ben, but if there was a child out there—I didn’t want to leave Josh and Ben again, but with my cover intact I’d be best placed to do it. “When do I need to leave?” I said.
“Ethan, we need to talk,” Nik interrupted the tumble of my regrets, and he gestured for to me to sit where Kayden had been, as one by one everyone else left the room and then it was only me and Nik left.
“What’s happened?” I said immediately, because Nik’s expression was carefully neutral, which could have meant any number of things.
“August blew your cover, told the cartel who you were. You’re done. Sanctuary will arrange a safe house for you, Josh, and Ben, until this is over, but for now, you can’t be front facing.”
“Fuck him, why would he do that? I don’t want to be dumped in a fucking safe house when there are kids out there being trafficked!” The last thing Josh would want is to be locked away for longer, he was already worried about Ben missing school and hell, I wanted a chance at a normal relationship with Josh, learning to be a dad to Ben if Josh would let me. The thought of Josh and Ben being in danger because of freaking August Fox terrified me.
I’d kill him if I ever saw him again. Fuck him.
“Do you remember Jake. He owns the foundation?”
“Of course, I do.” I snapped, and immediately felt remorse. “Shit, sorry.” I couldn’t get it out of my head that August Fox had deliberately revealed my real motives. “why would August do that?”
“I promise it will make sense, but first, can you talk to Jake? He has a proposition for you.” Nik checked his watch, and stood, before opening the door and ushering in a bewildered Josh, a grinning Ben, plus Oreo who padded in behind them. He flicked the switch on a screen and then left the room.
Jake was front and center, another man with dark hair sitting at his side.
“Ethan, it’s good to see you safe,” Jake started.
“It’s good to be safe,” I said, as Josh laced his fingers with mine out of sight of the camera.
Jake clapped a hand on the dark haired man's shoulder. “This is my husband Sean.”
We exchanged pleasantries like we were at a cocktail party, and then Jake cleared his throat, and his expression grew serious.
“So, I have a proposition for you.”
“Okay?” Josh squeezed my hand, and I waited for Jake to offer me a role in Sanctuary. I’d have to turn it down, Ryder and Luca were still my team, and I wanted back with them working out a way of providing security, or… I don’t know what, but something that was nine to five or close enough that I could invest time with my new family.
“It used to be that Sanctuary provided safe houses for people who needed them, the ones that fell off the radar, people in need. Only this world won’t let us do that alone anymore, and we’re increasingly pulled into situations that are outside of the remit my dad originally set. So, I want to set up a team that runs alongside Sanctuary but works in the shadows, the undercover side, the criminal investigation side, a team who can work with Sanctuary but also have autonomy where the situation demands it. The team will have our backup, resources, finances, but it would be something new. A shadow team. I know you’ll want to talk this over with Josh and Ben, but you’d be heading up the team, bringing in your own people, working in the morally gray areas, helping people who need it. You have your choice of where to locate but we do have a property in Maine that would be suitable.”
He paused, and I had to run over what he’d said, and how it might explain why August did what he did. Only none of that connected to August. Josh squeezed my hand, and immediately I realized it wasn’t just me that had a stake in this. Just the touch of his fingers settled my anger.
“What do you want to do?” I asked him.
“I want to help the kids like the ones here, I want to have a safe place for them,” he said, with conviction in his expression.
“We already have that in development if you’d be interested in heading that up,” Jake suggested directly to Josh.
“I’d be interested,” Josh confirmed. “It depends on what Ben wants.”
I leaned past Josh to see his son. “Ben?”
He glanced up from petting Oreo and gave me a smile just like his dad’s. “That’s easy. I want to stay with you both, but I’d like to maybe go to school, help dad with the kids my age, and maybe end up being a special agent working for your team in the shadows.” The last he said with a broad grin.
“Do you think we should take time to think about this?” I asked them both.
“No.” Josh said.
“Nope.” Ben added.
I faced the monitors and nodded. “We’re in, but I want my team; I want Ryder and Luca.”
“It’s one hundred percent your team,” Sean said, “only the Ryder thing won’t be happening.”
Regret filled me. “Because I shot him and everyone thinks he’s dead, so that’s blown his cover everywhere?”
Jake and Sean exchanged glances again. “No,” Jake said after a pause. “Ryder’s death has been reframed as fake with support from August. Which throws you under the bus, as he had to give up your name. Hence the safe house for you and your family, but also it was the best way of him getting into a new situation.”
“What kind of situation?” This didn’t sound good—Ryder was one of my best friends, a trusted lieutenant, and the way that Jake used the word situation filled me with dread.
“Ryder is the one we’ve sent in undercover to provide ex-fil for August’s daughter.”