The Locked & Loaded Series is a spinoff of the Amazon Bestselling Sand & Fog Series. Six Bodyguards telling their own stories and keeping it real. Each book is a standalone and can be read in any order.
I never understood when people said someday you would love someone enough to want it all. All? I didn’t even know what they meant by “all.” I’d spent most of my life in the military in the Special Forces and, since taking that career-ending bullet in Kandahar, as personal security for the most famous rock star on the planet. My life worked for me. I didn’t need more and I sure as hell didn’t need to have the heterosexual fantasy.
Straight life for a gay man?
Married instead of lovers?
Physical fidelity in addition to emotional fidelity?
Hell no. I was living life full-throttle in every man’s dream—in the center of a sexual orgy that spanned the globe, without limits or judgment. Why would any man want to change that?
But the minute I saw him, it all changed. I knew he was the one for me. The one the term all was invented for.
I never expected to fall so completely for a one-night stand. I thought this kind of love was something I was incapable of feeling, but then Leland Jensen was not my usual type of hookup. He was my age when I’d always been careful to stick with partners too young to hold my interest. He was smart and humorous. And he was my match in bed.
That he wasn’t like my other sexual partners should have warned me away that first night. Instead, it drew me to him like a moth to a flame. And there was no way to escape my desire for Leland since he was my employer.
I didn’t want a job guarding a child.
I didn’t want to fall in love with her father.
I did both.
I stood against the far side of the elevator, posture erect and with my muscled arms crossed at my chest in a universally understood command to stay the fuck away as we chugged floor by floor down from the penthouse to my room seven levels below.
I needed some quiet time to have any hope of closing out the last thirty-six hours of this contract semicoherent. There wasn’t much work left. A party. Hopefully a hookup for my private after-party. The flight home with my employer and his family. Then downtime in California with my longtime lover, Zac, until my next assignment.
Final day of the tour. Fuck, it had been one hell of a twelve-hour shift, but it shouldn’t have surprised me because the chaos of the past four months surpassed anything I’d come to know on the road with the British hard rock band Blackpoll or any other band I’d worked security for.
Being a bodyguard wasn’t all fun. It was grueling hours of long work, no matter what you read in those chick-lit romance novels—it definitely wasn’t all fun this road trip—and even acknowledging that, I felt surprisingly melancholy knowing this was the last tour I’d ever work for Alan Manzone. He’d been my employer for seven years, we were good friends, and I genuinely liked the man.
A stellar human being.
A thrill a second to be around.
Wild. Impulsive. Flamboyant. Brilliant and sexy as hell on stage—no man had a right to be that sexy when he sang—and twice as alluring in his downtime during those brief moments when he was really him. A sincerely kind man, intelligent, elegant, and dick-hardeningly handsome.
Regrettably, immovably heterosexual. Married with children. Still, Alan was my favorite fantasy more nights than I’d ever admit. Well, on those nights I couldn’t get something young and hot, eager to indulge my real-life fantasies.
Oh, and let me clear up another misconception—probably read in a supermarket paperback as well—being on a rock tour wasn’t just a heterosexual guy’s wet dream. It was a fucking gay paradise 24/7. Especially for a guy like me.
What? Was I not supposed to say that? I worked hard for this body. Ten years in the military Special Forces. Two hours every morning three hundred sixty-five days a year in the gym keeping myself lethal and combat fit. I was not just for show, sweetheart. I could pump one into you in more ways than one.
I was thirty-six and unattached and free to prowl—when I wasn’t home in California with my lover—though there hadn’t been much prowling this final leg of the tour.
Those kids see and watch everything.
I felt the beginnings of a headache, and pressed hard with two fingers on my right temple.
Jesus Christ. Who would have thought Alan’s final farewell to the road would have ended in a rattle and not a bang?
I sure as hell didn’t. I thought the partying would be off the hook this final leg, but it’d been more like Romper Room instead of a swingers’ private club.
I guess the saying was true regardless of who the man was: kids change everything. That thought immediately brought to mind another saying I’d heard more than once this tour: British rockers never die; they become fathers and fade away.
And that’s pretty much what we’d done the final leg of this final tour. Slowly faded away. No parties. No craziness. No wildness—hell, I could count on the digits of a single hand my hookups across the last four months hopping the globe—the ending of an era, an epic two-year world tour, the finale of the reign of the ultimate rock god, Alan Manzone, coming to a close with a rattle not a bang.
I started to laugh, in spite of the fact that was pretty corny, a lousy pun at best, and certainly less clever than I would have managed if I wasn’t practically sleeping on my feet. Shit, those children can kick my butt some days. Still, it was kind of funny. Life changed unpredictably for all men at times.
My head throbbed more incessantly and the light was making my eyes hurt even though it was muted in that Muzak ambience way and I hadn’t taken off my shades.
Jesus Christ, I’m exhausted and ready to be off the road for a while. Why is it taking fucking forever to get to my floor?
“What’s so funny?”
Behind my sunglasses, I shifted my gaze to find the new hire standing against the far wall. Oh crap. I’d forgotten the cherry was in the elevator with me. What the hell is his name? I hadn’t said a single word to him since he joined the tour last month.
And damn it, had I just laughed out loud?
Had he taken that as an invitation to speak to me?
I shrugged and ignored the question, since my arms were crossed which everyone on tour except Skyler Mathews—I remembered out of nowhere—knew was my code for don’t fucking speak to me.
“Long shift?” he asked.
Christ, he’s talking again. “Twelve hours. No longer than any other while on tour.”
He exhaled slowly as though he’d been nervous as hell until I’d answered him, and then he smiled. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t be such a hardnose with the guy. The tour was over tomorrow. There was always a chance I’d have to work with him in the future. He was a new member of the security team, one I hadn’t bothered to get to know, and it had been almost painful to watch the weeks of him struggling to fit in.
I was chiding myself to lighten up when he spoke again. “This tour wasn’t anything like I expected when I got hired on. I’m glad it’s over. Glad I won’t be working for Alan a second time. Every shift my team was up, I’m the one he dumps the kids on. Left me seven hours alone with the twins yesterday while he was doing a sound check. I don’t know where he gets off thinking he has a right to make me take care of his sons or that that fits my job description. Are all the celebrities we work for going to be like him? I felt more like a nanny with a gun than a bodyguard this tour.”
Oh no, he didn’t.
Had Skyler just bashed Alan to me? No wonder none of the security guys liked him. Fuck, where had Jared found this putz? I made a mental note to talk to my boss at Black Star Security about the company’s hiring practices since the term “scraping the bottom of the barrel” wasn’t that far off of the mark for this guy and, shit, a weak link endangered the entire team, not to mention the people we protected.
My gaze ran him slowly, taking note of his positive attributes. He was somewhere around twenty-five and he had a pretty nice package, there was no denying that. Tall, lean, cut physique and pretty-guy blond hair complementing bright blue eyes set off by that tan of his. Most of our clients liked their bodyguards to be attractive men. It made them look good having hot men standing beside them in the tabloid glossies. But they also wanted a skill set, and instinct told me Skyler didn’t have the background we normally held out for.
Military training? No fucking way. I’d bet my last dollar this guy had spent every day of his life in civvies and had gone to an Ivy League university. It made it all the more baffling that he didn’t manage better during his off-shift hours with the crew. Attractive, educated college men usually had better people skills.
He’d been like a duck out of water with the guys from day one. No social skills at all, and judging by the last two minutes, no conversational skills either.
This poor loser didn’t fit in anywhere and was always skulking around watching me, almost like he wanted me to take him under my wing, maybe hoping to get the team to back off on the shit they’d been giving him. And yes, I’d heard the shit and ignored it, just like I’d noticed his silent calls for help tossed my way.
Wrong plan, Sherlock, because here every man has to sink or swim on his own, and the faster this guy sank was just fine with me because Mathews didn’t know the first fucking thing about professional security.
Why the fuck had Jared hired him? And why the fuck did the newbie decide now to speak to me, pretty much sealing the deal that I couldn’t ignore him for another day?
The tic in my cheek started to twitch. I lifted my chin and squared my shoulders. “First rule, expect nothing and be prepared for anything. The personal security profession is a serious business regardless of the client or the task. You’re here to do a job. Nothing more. Nothing less. I don’t really give a fuck what you’re glad about. And if you want to keep your job you won’t ever talk shit about Alan to me. Or doesn’t that NDA you signed mean anything to you? Talk crap about Alan again and I will personally kick your ass back to wherever you came from. Are we clear, Mathews?”
There was a heavy silence between us as Mathews turned ten shades of red as though he was about to lose his shit. Oh yeah, asshole, you picked the wrong day to talk to me and definitely the wrong subject to lead with, since fuck, was that baby vomit on my lapel again?
“Hey, I didn’t mean anything against Alan,” Mathews said quickly. “I’m just tired of the guys giving me shit for always being the one on kid patrol. It must bug you, too, war hero and all, Alan demoting you the final leg of the tour to baby duty. First you get stuck 24/7 guarding his teenage daughter, and now the other girl and the baby. It must piss you off, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and everything. I’m not squat here so maybe I should shut up and not complain about me, but you’re a living legend. I don’t care who Alan Manzone is, he shouldn’t disrespect and dump on you that way.”
Yep, keep digging.
I’d had about all I could take of Skyler Mathews in this one and only dose of him, and in spite of the fact that he was worried and rapidly ass-kissing—rather well, I might add, because really, who doesn’t like being reminded they’re a decorated war hero—neither my temper nor my want to stomp on this jerk-off lessened.
The elevator did that bounce it does before stopping, and a ding followed before the doors opened. Saved by the bell. I stepped out into the hallway.
“Are we fucking cool, man?”
Oh fuck. I might have continued onto my room leaving matters as they were if he hadn’t said that. And damn, I felt those fucking eyes locked on me.
I turned slowly, extending an arm to keep the metal doors open between us. I slowly lowered my sunglasses on my nose so we would be eye to eye, hopefully negating any possibility of him misreading this.
“Cool?” I repeated, my eyes never leaving his. “We are the farthest thing there is from fucking cool. You don’t know shit about people and you know even less about what working security is all about. Duty. Loyalty. Serving and protecting. Those aren’t words we toss around in a classroom for dramatic affect. They mean something here.”
I paused, since I wasn’t sure if it was my words or my tone that caused his eyes to widen and his breaths to turn into shallow pants.
“Do you think any man here would disrespect me?” I continued, since it was obvious Mathews wasn’t going to find his voice anytime soon. “Do you have any idea how many ways I could kill you if I wanted to right now?”
I waited imperatively and Mathews finally managed to shake his head. I lost his eye contact with that. Yep, you better be terrified, asshole. He made such a pathetic image I should have probably left then. But I just wasn’t that guy. Not when someone threw down a thoroughly fucked-up theory about me or impugned the people I cared about.
I made another half step toward him into the elevator and he eased backward as if he wanted to disappear into the wall.
“You are the only person ever to disrespect me the seven years I’ve worked for Alan,” I pointed out succinctly. “Do you have shit for brains, a death wish, or are you clueless? There is no greater responsibility this tour than providing security for those children. That Alan trusts me with all of them is not only an enormous compliment, but a responsibility I assume wholeheartedly. That teenage girl, those boys, the little girl and the baby are the number one security issues on this tour. The safety of each one of them more important than anyone else we protect here. Completely vulnerable, soft targets worth over a billion, each and every one of them. The most vulnerable and important people we are protecting and you, you worthless jerk, think Alan is disrespecting me by entrusting me with their safety. You don’t know shit about anything.”
We squared off with our eyes as I waited for him to respond to the tongue-lashing.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a barely discernable whisper. “I guess I’ve got a lot to learn about the security business.”
My brows hitched up. “You think? Where the fuck did Jared find you? And don’t lie. I know it wasn’t the military.”
For some reason that question made the burn on his face turn from blood red to something almost like a flush of embarrassment.
“You going to tell me or not, Mathews?”
He lifted his gaze back to mine, that time, sheepishly. “I’m his cousin. I dropped out of law school and Jared hooked me up with the job here.”
For a half second, I didn’t know whether to groan, laugh, or cry bingo. It was a hard fight not to give in to any reaction. Shit, Mathews had no business working security on mine or any other detail. There was nothing funny about any of this and no reason to gloat over having been right in my assessment of him.
“Have you ever fired a weapon at a live target before?” I asked.
Mathews grew even more uncomfortable. “No. Jared said stick close to you. You’d teach me what I needed to know.”
He did, did he?
My temper spiked, unable to believe my fucking ears, and it suddenly was crystal clear why the newbie kept trying to cozy up with me from afar. Fucking Jared was going to hear a thing or two from me once I’d finished with his cousin. How the hell could he have sent out such an inexperienced bodyguard and not given me the heads-up?
Fuck you, Jared. Your ass is mine when I hit LA.
“It’s a good thing this tour is over,” I said. “One thing for sure, you are never going out on a contract with me again. Learn how to do your job or find a different line of work, will you?”
Nervously, he raked a hand through his hair. “Hey, I’m sorry. I just needed the check.”
I shoved my glasses back up on my nose. “This isn’t the kind of gig you do for money and it sure as hell isn’t a place for on-the-job training.”
I stepped back. It was time to let him go.
The door started to close, then Matthews’s arm blocked it and he held it open as he took a slow step toward me.
“You off shift now?” he asked tentatively.
A part of me warned that if I answered this the wrong way I’d have him latched onto me for the remainder of the night, but he was staring at me with those blue eyes, obviously hoping to figure out a way to set things right between us.
“I’m off until 1100 tomorrow,” I admitted reluctantly. “I fly back to California with Alan and the family.”
His eyes widened hopefully. “Can I buy you a drink?” As if he sensed my dismissal of the offer even before I voiced it, he added quickly. “I…just thought…you know…maybe—”
He broke off and his gaze grew heated and more intent. I studied him for a moment—oh fuck—those eyes weren’t staring at me with let’s get a drink and be friends; they were staring at me with let’s go to bed until morning.
Jesus. H. Christ.
Both Jared and God had been fucking with me this trip. How the hell had I missed that the newbie was gay? Gay, hungry, into me, and making the first move.
A potent elixir for the too much denied of late needs of my dick. Crap, instinct warned this guy had a lot to learn about a lot of things.
I let the line of my lips soften just a little. “I’m doing four hours of shut-eye, then the rooftop wrap party. I should be back in my room at 0200. If I haven’t got anything going, we might see about that drink then.”
Before he could speak, I turned and headed for my hotel room.
Yep, I could feel him watching.
I had my after-party lined up if I wanted him.
Four hours sleep?
Hell, it might be wise to do seven.
I waved my key card across the reader and opened the door. Fuck, it had been a hell of a tour and I was for sure more exhausted than I had thought before the elevator incident. Laughing in disbelief, I shook my head as I moved around my suite. Mathews had been trying to hit on me for weeks and somehow I’d missed the signals.
Motherfucking Jared. He was an asshole to send his fucking gay cousin with no skills to me to deal with.
Frowning, I removed my shoulder holster and then the backup piece strapped to my leg. I dumped the contents of my pockets on the coffee table before I sank down on a sofa, unbuttoning my shirt.
How the fuck could I have missed that Skyler Mathews was gay? Sure, I hadn’t spent much time with him since he joined the tour. I hadn’t wanted to. Which was strange since I always made it a point to spend time with the new guys on the crew.
Kids: they are the ruin of even gay men.
I stretched back onto the couch.
But I wasn’t going to let the kids get in the way tonight.
I had the next eighteen hours off the clock to fill any way I wanted. A night of possibilities, and hopefully, a few Trojans as well.
Characters – Graham is so cocky and hot! I just loved his character – the internal dialogue he has going in his head kept me smiling as I read through the pages. He was a former military man who was shot in service and for the last several years has been working as a personal bodyguard for the most famous rock star in the world. That job is over now and he is experiencing a lot of changes in his life. He needs something new – fast. Enter Leland and Ella. Leland needs a bodyguard for his little daughter Ella. Graham is hired for the job. Let the sparks fly!
Story – this was the first book I have read by Susan Ward and I am looking forward to Graham and Leland’s sequel. I thought the story line was unique in that it involved not only a male nanny to a female child, but he was ex military and gay. That showed a lot of creativity on the part of the author in my opinion and really held my attention. It was also one of the main reasons why I requested this book. I was glad to see Graham get his HEA and loved seeing the set up for the sequel.
Very nicely written story. I will definitely be recommending it!
*ARC given in exchange for an honest review*
Susan Ward is a #1 Amazon bestselling author in LGBT Erotica, #2 Amazon bestselling author in the Rock genre, and an Amazon bestselling author in Erotica Humorous, Coming-of-age, Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Women’s Fiction, and Romance Sagas.
She is a native of Santa Barbara, California, where she currently lives in a house on the side of a mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Her hometown is the inspiration for the Parker Saga which includes the Half Shell Series, Affair without End Series, the Sand & Fog Series, and the soon to be released Locked & Loaded Series.
She attended the University of California Santa Barbara and earned a degree in Business Administration from California State University Sacramento. She works as a Government Relations Consultant, focusing on issues of air quality and global warming. The mother of grown daughters, she lives a quiet life with her husband and her dog, Emma. She can be found most often walking at Hendry’s Beach, where she writes most of her storylines in her head while watching Emma play in the surf. She has 16 romance releases available on Amazon and all her books are free in Kindle Unlimited.
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