Note to readers: Please be aware that Jared’s story is a gay romance with explicit male on male sex scenes. For those who do not wish to read an m/m book, Jasmine’s story will be released in Jan of 2017 and will recap any pertinent story line information from this novel. For my loyal readers who have requested this story, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! —Hugs, Kris
Contemporary LGBT Romance/69,000 Words
Kings of Guardian (Book 5)
The jagged line between love and hate is paper thin and razor sharp. Pushing Christian across that line severs him from Jared’s life…until fate steps in giving Jared one last chance.
Jared King had endured more than the normal amount of danger in his life.
He’d jumped from planes into hot landing zones, been shot at, almost blown up—twice, damn near killed more times than he cared to remember. Yet, nothing in his past compared to the danger of admitting his feelings for Christian Koehler. When Jared pushed Christian away too hard, once too often, the young man finally left and took Jared’s heart with him.
Once upon a time, Christian Koehler had idolized Jared King. But after two years of the arrogant man's hot and cold mind games, Christian avoided the sexy Guardian like the plague. The jagged line between love and hate was paper thin and razor sharp, and Jared had pushed Christian across that line, with prejudice.
When Christian discovers what he believes is a common thread in several disappearances of the homeless and at-risk teens in his area, he immediately tells his superiors. But neither his employer nor the D.C. cops believe the missing children are connected. Desperate to find out the truth, Christian swallows his pride and returns to the Kings and Guardian for help.
Jared seizes the opportunity to investigate the missing children and the unexpected chance to once again be part of Christian’s life. What he finds leads to a tempest of deceit, danger and intrigue that pulls Christian back into Jared’s world.
This time, Jared vows to fight to keep Christian with him forever—no matter the cost.
Other Books by Kris
The Marshall Ranch, Hollister, South Dakota—early morning, the day before Christmas three years ago:
Jared King groaned as he regained consciousness and immediately, absolutely wished he were dead. Or maybe he was dead. Can you feel like a pile of shit if you’re dead? He moved his head slightly. Vicious shards of pain ripped a path through his brain. Yes, yes you can.
He peeled his tongue off the roof of his mouth and tried to swallow. The sour taste of whiskey brought fleeting, convoluted memories of last night and the party at the training facility’s new six- bed hospital. Way too much whiskey. He cracked his eyes open and blinked—once, and only once. The light pouring through the window painted vivid, searing, crimson streaks against his corneas and ignited lightning bolts of pain through his skull. Fuck, there was absolutely no need to see a damn thing today. Holy Mother of God, who in the hell decided it was a good idea to mix his brothers, a team of professional mercenaries, and alcohol together? Whoever that was, the asshole needed to be shot.
Somehow his muddled mind put a semi-coherent course of action together, and he let that bastard of an idea lead. He turned away from the sunlight and tried to open his eyes again. With extreme caution, he maneuvered to his side and rolled into a warm body. He froze. Slowly bringing his hands up to hold his head—just in case the pounding forced his brains to spontaneously erupt—he groaned... or whimpered. The warmth next to him moved… closer? Soft hair tickled his arm. Jared pried his eyelid open and tried to fight through the nausea and focus. The face, not more than six inches away, slowly started to come into focus.
The unforgiving pain between his eyes took a backseat to confusion. Long, soft blond hair fell in a thick drape over the man’s shoulder. Darker eyelashes fanned out over his cheeks, one of which still showed a bruise from some not-so-distant injury. The cheeks held a blush the same color as the man’s lips.
Shit… clothes? Jared palmed his chest and breathed a sigh of relief. Clothes, check… so what the fuck, or rather who the fuck? You’re never drinking again, King.
Jared lifted his head and immediately regretted the stupid idea, but he gutted it out and swept a quick gaze over the room. Chief, Dixon, Drake, Justin, and Adam were draped over five of the six hospital beds available. Four members of Alpha team and the one brother not involved with
Guardian Security were asleep or unconscious. Maybe dead… after all, he felt like death warmed over. Damn. Never again. Seriously.
Jared looked back down at the young man next to him. The kid from last night… what the fuck was his name? Ahh… hell, the neighbor’s kid, right? The one that was beaten to hell and back by his old man… or was it his brother? Jared’s mind started to function, but definitely not on all eight cylinders, more like sputtering on three. He closed his eyes again and shuddered through a wave of nausea.
Damn. He drew a slow, deep breath and the nausea abated. The kid’s name was Christian. Yeah, that was it. He tried to remember the details he’d overheard, but could only recall the kid’s life had been hell. Slowly his mind filled in the blanks. Jason and Adam were paying for the kid to go back to college. One thing he knew without a doubt—the young man was gay. Not that the kid broadcast the fact, but he glanced at Jared and lingered a moment too long. He’d blushed when Jared leaned toward him to hear over the ruckus the other men were making. Other subtle tells confirmed he was right. He closed his eyes and carefully rolled onto his back, forgetting how narrow the beds were. The metal side rail of the hospital bed groaned but held his weight and prevented him from rolling off. Thank you, Jesus. Hitting the floor with this hangover would have been a death sentence. His head would explode. Or implode. Fuck, who cared. He’d be dead.
The body beside him shifted closer and tucked up under his chin. Jared instinctively wrapped his arm around the kid’s muscled shoulders. He wasn’t going to admit how damn good it felt to hold that lithe body next to him, but how the hell did he end up in bed with him? Jared put his free hand over his eyes. Think, King. What the fuck happened last night?
He recalled the kid bringing food and more whiskey from the main house to the hospital. They’d all had one hell of a good time. He and his brothers rarely had occasion to be in the same place at the same time and be safe enough to let down their defenses. Holy hell, they’d sure as fuck let every last one of them down last night. Jared heard a moan and looked over as Chief attempted to sit up. The former communications specialist from his brother Jacob’s team had taken the lead position here at the ranch last year. He was in charge of setting up Guardian’s training complex. Right now the man was making a chore of sitting himself up.
“Oh… son of a bitch.” Chief groaned the words out as he finally got semi-vertical. “Welcome to my world.” Jared’s voice sounded as fucked up as his head felt.
Chief squinted at him and blinked a couple of times. He rubbed his face and looked toward
Jared again. He gave a vague wave of his hand toward where he and the kid lay. “What the fuck?” Jared slowly shook his head, swallowed back the nausea the movement caused before he croaked, “I have no idea.”
“You and the kid were talking one minute and passed out the next. Fuuuck, I think I’m dying.”
Adam rolled onto his stomach and held his head in his hands. The doctor let out a pained moan that said more than any words could.
Chief grunted, “So, this is hell.”
“Shut up,” Dixon snarled as he pulled his pillow over his head. His twin, Drake, didn’t move. Hell, from where he was lying, Jared couldn’t tell if the man was breathing.
“I didn’t think the kid had that much.” Kid… wasn’t that just his fucking luck. The kid currently asleep in his arms was everything that pushed his buttons. Jared moved to a more comfortable position, bringing Christian’s head onto his shoulder. Damn, if the man next to him were a couple years older…
“Didn’t. Must not have any tolerance.” Adam sat up and blinked repeatedly. “Aspirin?” Chief stood but held the side of the bed to steady himself.
“Fuck, yeah. Break it out, Doc.” Jared lifted slowly, extricating himself from the warmth next to him.
Christian blinked as Jared sat up. Terror filled his eyes, and the young man sprang from the bed with a sharp gasp. His chest rose and fell with deep, panic-driven pulls of air.
“Hey, dude… settle down.” Jared reached out for him, but the younger man jerked away as if Jared had leprosy. Christian’s eyes scanned the room, and seconds later he bolted out the door. The echo of his footsteps pounding down the hallway was the only indication he’d once been in the room.
“What. The. Fuck?” Jared looked at both Chief and Adam hoping for an answer.
Adam glanced over at Jared. “He’s had it rough. I’ll talk to him when I don’t want to puke my guts up. He’ll be okay.”
“Seriously? Shut. Up,” his brother, Justin, moaned. Another country heard from. At least they were all alive. Maybe.
“Someone see if Drake’s still breathing.” Adam threw the comment over his shoulder as he fumbled with a medication bottle. Finally getting the plastic arrows lined up, he popped the lid and started doling out the pain relievers.
“Touch me and die,” Drake murmured.
“Not scared. I’m going to die anyway,” Jared growled as he swallowed two pills dry and lay back down. He’d figure out the kid later. Maybe… if he lived.
Marshall Ranch, South Dakota, that evening, the day before Christmas…
Christian stood alone on the balcony, watching as family and friends descended on Doctor Adam Cassidy and his future wife, Keelee Marshall. Moments before, on the darkened balcony above a fifteen-foot Christmas tree, the entire King clan and all the doc’s military friends had watched as the guy went down on one knee and asked her to marry him. The happiness, back slapping and well wishes almost drowned the dark sadness that invaded Christian. He overlooked the scene, again wondering at the opportunity he’d been given. For some reason, two very good men, Adam Cassidy and Jason King, had taken him under their wing and offered him a way out of his personal hell. He was leaving the day after tomorrow to go to Mississippi with Jason. His only goal was to get as far away from his father and brothers and Hollister, South Dakota, as he could. Jason and Doc had offered him the chance to go back to college, and he grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
Christian looked at the men below him. Like Mr. Marshall, the owner of the ranch where they were building a training complex, the Kings and the men of Guardian were true role models. Not like his father. The men gathered below him wouldn’t… No, he couldn’t finish the thought without tearing up. His father couldn’t hurt him anymore. Soon he’d be gone, and he’d finally be able to be himself. Whoever, or whatever, that was.
He leaned against the pine pillar and surveyed the crowd below him. Unexpected longing surged unchecked, hitting him with a force so deep and desperate the emotion forced his breath to stick in his throat until the act of breathing became almost too difficult. Yet he did inhale, and held the air inside until it hurt. That small tinge of pain grounded him in reality. Life hurt. Desperately and painfully. Good things like happiness were reserved for families like the one downstairs. He moved back from the edge of the balcony and leaned against the wall behind him. Someday he hoped to have a family. A real family, like the one downstairs. Someone he could love, and that would love him in return. Maybe kids one day.
Yeah, kids… he enjoyed working with kids, and when he could, he volunteered at school as a tutor. He wanted to help those like him, the kids that were abused or neglected. That’s what he wanted to do with his degree—social work. His father hadn’t known he’d changed his major. He’d have earned another beating for that. The fact that he was actually allowed to go to college was predicated on his academic scholarships, but his dad paid room and board. Or did until the day he’d been forced back to the ranch.
He closed his eyes, trying to hold back the memories of the beatings he’d taken at the old man’s hands and those of his older brother, Clint. He was glad he was leaving South Dakota.
A floorboard creaking to his right startled him. Instinctively, Christian pushed back further into the shadows.
“Hey. Are you okay?” Jared King’s deep voice held a slight southern accent and carried from where he stood leaning over the balcony rail.
Christian could feel his face flush and thanked God he was in the darkest part of the hall. He lowered his eyes to the ground and hid his face behind the fall of his hair. He’d grown it long to use specifically for that purpose. Hiding from people was something he knew how to do well.
“I didn’t see you today. You took out of the clinic pretty quick this morning.”
Christian risked a glance at the man he’d tried not to think about. Jared King had talked to him last night. Actually talked to him—like he mattered. He’d had a couple sips of whiskey and laughed and visited with all the men. But Jared? Christian felt a connection, a draw toward him. It was a pull he really didn’t want to dissect or understand. As much as the man fascinated him, the power that radiated around Jared made him hesitate. He moved with slow, powerful grace that lulled you into thinking he wasn’t the threat Christian sensed he could be. But then, all the men of Guardian were dangerous. He’d seen them train and heard enough to know they were skilled killers if necessary.
“Not sure what time we passed out last night. Do you know?”
Christian cleared his throat before he answered, “About four this morning.”
Jared chuffed a lungful of air. “We aren’t always like that. But sometimes we do like to cut
loose.” He lifted off the rail and looked back towards Christian. “Did I do or say something last night? I mean, the way you took out of the clinic this morning… if I did, God knows, I didn’t mean any offense.”
Christian shook his head. What was he supposed to say? He knew he’d acted like a fool this morning by running away from the men who had treated him as an equal. When he woke up at the clinic beside Jared, he’d been disoriented. He’d thought he was back at his father’s place. Locked in the barn. How did he tell the guy in front of him the reason he ran was overwhelming fear? How did he confess to any of these men about the terror, pain and humiliation? You don’t. You never tell anyone, especially this type of men. They didn’t identify with weakness, and he’d do well to remember that. “Sorry, I just… no, you didn’t do anything that was offensive.”
He watched through his hair as Jared meandered across the hall and closed the gap between them. Christian slowly backed down the hall as Jared stalked him. He stopped when the big man lowered his voice to little more than a whisper. “I understand you’ve had a hard time. I’ve been there, too. Life isn’t easy sometimes.”
Christian swallowed hard and forced himself to look up, way up, into the vivid green eyes of the man standing next to him. He couldn’t imagine Jared would have a hard time with anything. The man standing in front of him was sexy, confident, and if the rumors at the ranch were true, very successful.
Jared smiled but didn’t say a word as he reached toward Christian. Surprise froze him for a moment. His muscles tensed to run. Panic insisted, don’t let anyone touch you! Survival had become instinctual. The warm grip of Jared’s large palm cupped the back of his neck. On the verge of bolting, he stilled. His panic subsided. Jared made a point of looking up, and Christian’s eyes followed his gaze. A bundle of mistletoe hung suspended over them. Christian stopped breathing as Jared leaned down to meet his lips. The soft brush sent a shockwave of sensation running like tiny electric currents under his skin. The sweep of Jared’s tongue asked for permission, and Christian granted access. He grabbed Jared’s biceps to steady himself under the sensual onslaught. The huge muscles flinched and trembled under his touch.
His body was being set on fire. Jared’s tongue coaxed and teased his until Christian leaned into the big body in front of him, surrendering to the longing he felt.
The kiss ended with a tender nip of his bottom lip followed by a soft sweep of Jared’s tongue. Christian opened his eyes to see the pupils of Jared’s eyes blown wide, rimmed by a slice of vivid green. Jared’s stare held him mesmerized. Finally, the man closed his eyes and shook his head. He dropped his hand from Christian’s neck, sending a shiver down his spine. He missed the warmth immediately.
“Merry Christmas, Christian. May all your dreams come true.” Jared pulled back a step as he spoke.
“I think they just did.” Christian blushed at his breathless admission.
“I’m nothing to wish for, kid. I never will be. You’d be better served by pinning those dreams on someone else.” Jared dropped his hand and pivoted on his heel.
Christian’s fingertips traced his lips as he watched Jared go downstairs to be with his family. A smile pulled at the side of his mouth.