wouldn’t ruin it this time. He’d take what he could get, for however long he had left in this world.

A shiver trailed down his spine as he thought of Dietz out there somewhere, crouched in a dark corner like a deadly spider. Waiting to strike again.

And when the bastard made his move on Michael this time, Bastian would step right between them.

To hell with the cost.


“Dammit, Michael, what the fuck are you doing here? You shouldn’t be back at work this soon! SHADO can survive without you for a couple more weeks.” Michael Ross looked up from the file on his desk and at Bastian Chevalier’s anxious face. In spite of Michael’s CEO and closest friend driving him bat-shit crazy for the past few weeks of his convalescence, nagging him to rest and eat right, Michael’s mouth curved into a smile. He should’ve known better than to think he could hide in his office without being discovered.

“SHADO will survive, but you, my friend, are about to collapse,” he pointed out reasonably. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you’ve been running yourself ragged heading the organization and taking care of me at the same time.”

Bastian was tired, no question. His thick golden blond hair was disheveled from being finger-combed so often, Michael was surprised the man hadn’t gone bald. Dark circles were smudged under bottle green eyes that hadn’t lit with laughter in more than a month. No, more like years, if he was honest, at least where Michael was concerned, and for reasons that had nothing to do with last month’s assassination attempt.

Yeah, it seemed he’d made an art out of hurting Bastian. His smile dimmed as his friend continued to argue.

“I’ve been managing just fine, thanks. And this isn’t about me,” his friend snapped. “I know the doctor hasn’t cleared you to come back at all, much less full-time. And are you forgetting his warning that before you were shot, you were flirting with a stress-induced heart attack? Get your ass out from behind that desk. I’m taking you home.”

Michael opened his mouth to argue, but the thunderous expression on his friend’s handsome face changed his mind. “Fine. It’s not like I’ll get anything else done today with you hovering and glaring at me.” He locked away the file and powered off his computer while his friend waited. Standing, he grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his chair, wincing at the sudden tug on his healing wounds as he shrugged it on. Thankfully Bastian refrained from delivering the smug “I told you so” that obviously hovered on his lips.

“How did you get here, anyway?” Bastian asked in exasperation.

“Simon.” Michael paid the older gentleman handsomely to act as his butler, personal attendant, and driver, if needed. The man took his job seriously and did it exceptionally well.

“Figured as much. You’re the most stubborn jackass who ever lived,” Bastian grumbled, leading his friend out of the offices and into the main hallway.

“But you love me anyway,” he pointed out cheerfully. Then he stumbled mentally, wondering why he’d said that. Christ, the last thing he needed was to give Bastian the wrong idea. False hope. Worried, he shot a sideways glance at his friend, but Bastian only snorted, shaking his head.

“I’ve spent the past month nursing an ungrateful horse’s rear end. Super.”

“A jackass is a donkey, not a horse.”


“And I am grateful. More than you know.”

“That’s because you’d go nuts rattling around in that McMansion of yours with nobody but an uptight British butler for company.” Bastian raised a brow. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Okay, you’ve got me there. But that’s not the only reason I — Hey, are you fishing for a compliment?” With suspicion he eyed his friend, who managed an innocent expression.

“Of course not. You don’t have to say you like having me around for me to know it’s true.”

“Good. Because I do, you know. Like having you around.” Damn, he had a feeling he’d just been played. But any annoyance over the fact vanished when Bastian graced him with a thousand-watt smile that illuminated his friend’s sexy face and did really weird fucking things to his insides. Sort of twisted them up and—

Shit, no. The warmth spreading from his belly to his groin was not arousal. No goddamned way.

“Michael, welcome back.”

The warm, husky greeting jerked him from his confusing thoughts and his steps halted as he looked around for the source. Their electronic-surveillance expert approached, hand out, a smile on her wide, luscious mouth that he couldn’t help but return.

“Katrina. It’s good to be back.” He shook the offered hand, noting how her strong, self-assured grip belied the soft, pale skin and slender fingers. Gorgeous on the outside, made of tough stuff on the inside. Not butch, but classy and confident. He liked that in a woman. A lot.

“I’ll bet. I can’t imagine being laid up for weeks,” she said, letting go of his hand. “Then there’s all the catching up to do. I don’t envy you one bit.”

God, that voice of hers. Low and smooth, like a palm sliding over his skin. It wasn’t like he hadn’t noticed how her sexy voice tightened his balls every single time she spoke. Because he had. Just like he noticed that her drab white lab coat couldn’t hide the curves on her lovely five-foot-nine-inch body. Or that wearing her hair pulled back into a serviceable ponytail, as she wore it now, couldn’t disguise how stunning the fiery mass was when freed from its confines. He’d always thought she looked like a younger, redheaded version of Rene Russo, and he wondered whether she heard that often.

The truth was, Katrina Brandt flat-out did it for him, even if it wasn’t appropriate to let on, what with being her boss. Sexual harassment suit, anyone? Still, if he was confused before about the heat enveloping his cock in Bastian’s presence, he certainly wasn’t now. Women turned him on, period. Relief overwhelmed him, nearly knocking him over.

“He’s not back,” Bastian grumbled, scowling. “He’s ignoring doctor’s orders, and I’m taking him home, where I intend to punish him. Severely.”

The redhead glanced between them, blue eyes sparkling. “Well, I’d pay good money to see that. I might even help, considering that the boss man here turned down my last vacation request.”

The three of them shared a laugh, but Michael sensed a peculiar tension underscoring her playful teasing. As though she really wasn’t joking at all. He shifted and pulled his jacket tighter around him, hoping it hid his heavy erection. Jesus, he needed relief. Soon, or he was going to explode.

He cleared his throat. “Crime doesn’t take the week off, and, as I recall, you asked me at a bad time.”

“Is there ever a good time in this business?” Her unwavering stare challenged him for a truthful answer.

“You have a point. Hell, I’ve been out for a month and the place obviously didn’t fall apart.” Thanks to Bastian, but he didn’t say that. “Tell you what — drop by my office with the dates you want off and I’ll approve them. You’ve earned it.”

“He means drop them off at my office,” Bastian said firmly. “He’s not supposed to be pushing himself just yet.”

“Will do.” Katrina swept each of them with what Michael swore was an appreciative look filled with sexual heat. “And thank you. Michael, take it easy. Gentlemen, I’ll catch you both later.”

Watching her walk away, he wondered which of them that predatory look had been for. Surely not both of them. It had to have been the lack of sex that had affected his poor, starved body and turned his brain to mush. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be entertaining such crazy ideas about one of his own employees. A soft whistle from Bastian interrupted his thoughts.

“Damn, that’s one helluva fine woman,” his friend said, leering at Katrina’s retreating backside.

A stab of annoyance went through him. “I thought you preferred men.”

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