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Nothing Left To Lose

Part 1: Guarding The Broken

By Kirsty Moseley

Smashwords Edition

Nothing Left to Lose, Part 1: Guarding the Broken was originally published in 2013 under the title Nothing Left to Lose which has been broken down and split into two parts. Copyright for the original work was filed in 2013.

Copyright © 2017 Kirsty Moseley

All rights reserved.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


I just want to say a huge thank you to Judi Perkins at Concierge Literary Designs and Photography for the beautiful cover – and for the patience with me when I had no clue what I wanted but kept making suggestions anyway. Thank you for creating exactly what I didn’t even know I wanted! Love you, woman!

This book is for Lee – my real life Ashton (just without the SWAT uniform). Love you, forever and always. xx

Chapter One

Sweet sixteen is a day that every girl should remember as special in their lives. In some cultures, it’s even considered to be the start of passage into womanhood. My sixteenth was anything but sweet; it was more like the passage into hell on earth. March 12 was the day my dreams died and my life was sent into a downward spiral of pain, grief and terror. My sixteenth birthday left an irrevocable scar on me, and was the beginning of events that I would see repeatedly in my nightmares.

Right now I was standing in the cold of the night, queuing for admittance outside club Ozone – unknowingly waiting for my traumatic ordeal to begin. The balls of my feet were already aching, a product of the ridiculously high heels that I wore. The cool wind whipped around me, making the little black dress that I was wearing billow around my thighs. My perfect boyfriend, Jack Roberts, was rubbing my arms, trying to warm me up. We’d been standing in line for the club for almost an hour, and finally were quite near the front.

“Jack, I’m not sure this is gonna work. Maybe we should just go watch a movie or something?” I whispered, eyeing the doorman, who was looking at the line suspiciously.

“Anna, it’ll work. You asked me to take you to a club for your birthday, so I’m doing exactly that,” he replied, cupping his chilly hands around my face.

I looked at him and my heart stuttered. I loved this boy with everything I had in me. He was kind, loving, caring, generous, thoughtful, and not to mention handsome. With his short blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, he was every girl’s dream. Literally. Every girl I knew was in love with my boyfriend, but he had only ever had eyes for me. We’d met when we were five years old. He’d asked me to be his girlfriend the first time I saw him, and we’d been together ever since. He was my everything, and we would be together forever. We already had everything planned – finish school, then college, then Jack would become a doctor like he’d always wanted to be, and I would become an artist. Eventually, we would get married and have kids. Perfect.

Three months ago, Jack had asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate my birthday; he said that I could choose anything in the world and we would do it. So I decided to go out to a club, and then I wanted to stay at a hotel, where we would have sex for the first time. After three months of planning and scheming, we had finally convinced our parents to let us stay out. Jack had gotten us both a fake ID card, and I was so excited that I could barely contain myself.

Now that we were here though, in the cold, surrounded by half-drunken people, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel and have him run his hands all over my body to warm me up, and then we would finally be together physically.

I smiled up at him, my stomach clenching in anticipation. He smiled back and bent his head to kiss me. I melted against him. When Jack kissed me, I felt amazing, like my heart was flying, and like I was the luckiest girl in the world. His hands slipped down to my ass, squeezing gently, causing a small smile to tug at the corners of my mouth.

When he broke the kiss, he pulled back, grinning at me. His eyes sparkled in the dim street lights. “I love you, Anna.”

My heart throbbed again as my whole body broke out in goosebumps. I loved the sound of those three words coming out of his mouth; I still wasn’t used to hearing them even after all these years.

“I love you too,” I replied, and I did. I loved him more than anything. He kissed me again, pulling my body closer to his.

A gentle tap on my shoulder made me jump and break the kiss.

“Hi,” a male voice said from behind me.

I turned around to see a man who was probably in his mid-twenties. He wasn’t in the line of people waiting to enter the club; he stood the other side of the ropes. He was quite good-looking, with nicely styled, dark brown hair and brown eyes. A sleek, black, button down shirt covered his broad shoulders, and he’d paired it with black pants and extremely expensive-looking shoes. He was looking me over slowly.

“Er, hi,” I replied, smiling sweetly, trying to be friendly in case he worked here. He wasn’t on his own; two other guys stood behind him.

“I’m Carter,” the brown haired guy said, holding out his hand for me to shake.

“Anna.” I put my hand in his, shaking it politely. He didn’t let go, instead he pulled me towards him, away from Jack.

“I can get you in if you want, saves you waiting in the cold,” he offered, smiling. My insides bubbled with excitement at the thought of getting into the club. I looked back at Jack, who was frowning angrily and glaring at my hand that the guy still held.

“Yeah? That’d be great! It’s freezing out here,” I chirped happily, trying not to jump up and down on the spot from excitement.

Carter laughed. “Come on then, Anna.” He nodded to one of the people that he was with, and they immediately unclipped the rope so I could step out of the line.

I reached back and grabbed Jack’s hand, grinning ecstatically.

“Er, Princess, your boy’s not invited,” Carter said, sneering at Jack as if he was something he’d just stepped in.

Confusion settled over me. “What? I thought you said you could get us in.”

He finally let go of my hand and stepped back. “I said I could get you in. We don’t need any spectators.” He jerked his chin towards Jack as his eyebrows furrowed in annoyance.

I frowned angrily. What a jerk! He’d interrupted me and Jack making out, but thought I’d go into the club with him and leave Jack outside? “Right, well no thanks, I’m with my boyfriend. I thought you meant both of us. Sorry.” I took the rope back out of the other guy’s hand and clipped it back to the ring, then wrapped my arms around the love of my life, glaring at Carter.

Carter shrugged. “Suit yourself. Maybe you’ll save me a dance.” He smirked at me before he turned and walked straight into the club.

“What a jackass!” I growled, watching his disappearing back. Jack laughed, and all my anger melted away instantly at the sound. “What’s so funny?” I asked, smiling at him.

“You just can’t help yourself, can you? You make guys fall for you without even trying.” He grinned as he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me closer to his body.

“I know, it must be my irresistible charm,” I joked, fluttering my eyelashes.

“Either that or your incredible legs,” he teased, hesitantly rubbing his hands over my thighs. I slapped his chest playfully and pulled him down to kiss me again.

After about another half an hour, we were finally ushered through into the club with no problems. The doorman barely even glanced at our IDs. Once we were through the door, I jumped up and down, squealing excitedly.

“This is awesome!” I cried, grabbing his hand and immediately pulling him to the dance floor. The music was so loud you could almost feel the vibrations through the floor.

“Let’s get a drink,” he shouted in my ear after a couple of songs. I nodded and he took my hand, leading me towards the bar. We had a quick drink and then went straight back to dancing, losing ourselves in the rhythm of the loud music. He had one hand on my backside the whole time, making me feel hot and bothered. When he bent his head and kissed me, I tangled my hands in his hair, kissing him back with everything I had. We’d only been inside for an hour, but I was ready to leave. The club was fantastic but what I really wanted was what we planned for after – my night with him.

“Jack, want to go?” I asked, running my hands down his chest. He grinned at me and nodded eagerly. He had been ready to take our relationship to the next level for the last six months but we’d wanted to wait until we were both sixteen.

He took my hand and we made our way out of the club, weaving through the crowd of drunken people that were milling around enjoying their night. As we got near the stairs that led down to the front lobby, the guy that I spoke to in the line outside, Carter, stepped out and held his hand in front of us to stop.

“Hi, Princess. How about that dance?” he asked, looking me over slowly.

“No thanks, we’re leaving,” I declined confidently.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” He smiled and took my hand, yanking me forwards, away from Jack. My mouth popped open in shock.

“Get your fucking hands off her!” Jack growled menacingly, stepping forward. I looked back at him with wide eyes, wondering if there was going to be some kind of fight. Before I could even comprehend what had happened, someone grabbed him from behind, holding his arms behind his back securely.

I struggled to get out of Carter’s hold, ripping my hand from his. “Get the hell off me! Let him go! I don’t want to dance with you; I’m leaving with my boyfriend!” I cried angrily.

Carter smiled wickedly, not seeming bothered by this confrontation in the slightest. “One dance is all I ask, and then you can go,” he offered, waving his hand dismissively. Jack made a furious snorting sound so the guy that was holding him shoved him roughly against the wall, holding him there. I screamed and looked around wildly for some help.

“For fuck’s sake! You touch her and I’ll kill you!” Jack growled.

“No one speaks to me like that!” Carter shouted angrily.

He stepped forward and punched Jack in the face, splitting his lip. Almost instantly, blood poured down his face. Carter pulled his arm back, obviously about to deliver a second blow. He looked murderously angry; his whole face was contorted in rage. Panic rushed through my system at the thought of this guy hurting Jack. I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t.

“No! Okay, okay, I’ll dance! One dance, just please don’t hurt him, please,” I begged, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

“No, Anna!” Jack shouted, spitting blood onto the floor. I looked at him and felt my chin quiver at the sight of his bleeding face. My heart was beating so fast that I thought I would pass out.

“It’s alright. One dance, I don’t mind,” I lied, forcing a small smile.

Carter laughed and grabbed my hand, pulling me towards the dance floor. He pulled me into his chest, wrapping his arms around me tightly, his face inches from mine. I felt sick; my skin was crawling. I turned my face away, refusing to look at him as he ground his crotch into my hip. Bile rose in my throat, so I quickly swallowed it down. One of his hands slipped down to my ass, the other onto my thigh. I closed my eyes and willed the song to be over; my body was shaking in anger and fear. I just prayed they weren’t hurting Jack while I wasn’t there.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the song finished. I put my hands on his chest and pushed as hard as I could, but he didn’t let go, he just held me tighter, laughing.

“You know, you’re so beautiful, Princess,” he breathed in my ear.

“Please, you said one dance, please,” I begged, trying to squirm out of his hold.

“I’ve changed my mind. One’s not enough,” he purred, kissing my neck.

I gasped and pushed him again, panic washing over me as I squirmed, trying to get some distance between us. This time he dug his fingers into my sides roughly. Pain shot through me, making me cry out, but no one could hear because the music was still thumping around us.

“Please! Why are you doing this?” I cried, tears falling down my face.

He ran his tongue up my face, licking my tears away. “Mmm,” he breathed; it was almost a moan of appreciation. He slipped his hand under my dress and rubbed his fingers against my panties.

Immediately I clamped my legs together to try and stop his touch. “No! Please let me go. Jack!” I screamed, thrashing, trying desperately to get out of his hold. No one even batted an eyelid at us.

“Fine, let’s go find your precious Jack,” he sneered, pushing me roughly towards the stairs. I stumbled up the stairs as fast as my legs would carry me. My heart was in my throat the whole time. When I got to the top, my eyes settled on Jack; he was still being held against the wall by the same blond guy. As soon as he saw me, he started to struggle against the restraining hands.

“Let him go, please,” I begged, trying to get to him. I saw Carter nod his head and instantly the other guy let go. As soon as he was free, Jack grabbed me and pushed me behind him protectively.

“Whoa, easy there boy, no harm done,” Carter mused, sneering distastefully. “Although your girlfriend there is sexy as hell.” He looked me over slowly, licking his lips.

I cringed into Jack’s back, my skin crawling because of the way he was looking at me. Suddenly Jack launched himself at him, his fist connecting with Carter’s stomach. Carter doubled over with a groan and the two men he was with grabbed Jack again as he fought and struggled against their hands. I looked around for help, but no one was coming. Why was no one helping us? People weren’t paying even the slightest bit of attention to us as they drank, laughed and danced around us, not even looking in our direction as the music thumped and vibrated off the walls. My hands were shaking; my heart was beating way too fast. I already knew they were going to hurt him. All I could think was that he’d said we could leave, Carter had said we could go, so why did Jack have to do that?

“Please, please!” I screamed as one man held him and the other punched him over and over in the stomach. I grabbed at the one hitting him, trying to pull him away but Carter’s arms wrapped around me, lifting me off my feet and pulling me back a couple of paces.

“Door,” Carter barked angrily.

The blond guy nodded, and suddenly they were dragging Jack away. I jerked out of Carter’s grasp and ran after them, still crying and screaming hysterically. They dragged him through a fire door. As I reached to try and help him again, Carter grabbed hold of my arm roughly and slammed the door behind him so we were outside on some sort of fire escape. He threw me backwards, making me lose my footing and stumble into the wall. The side of my head connected with the rough bricks; the pain and shock of it made my vision cloudy. I could feel the slight trickle of blood down the side of my face. I squeezed my eyes closed, fighting against the pain that was making my legs weak.

I could hear Jack grunting and groaning, so I forced my eyes open against the blackness that was trying to engulf me. He was on the floor and they were taking turns kicking him; his face was covered in blood, his eyes desperate and scared.

I couldn’t breathe. This was like something out of a nightmare, a nightmare that I couldn’t escape from.

I needed to stop this – now. “What do you want? I’ve got money, I can get you money! Please?” I screamed. One of the guys pulled out a metal-looking thing like the police have; he snapped it out and started beating my already broken boyfriend with it. I heard the bones crack in his arm. “PLEASE STOP! I’ll do anything. PLEASE?” I screamed, gasping for breath. I crawled over to Jack and wrapped my arms around his broken body.

“Run,” he croaked, his voice barely above a whisper. He squeezed his eyes shut, his jaw clenching tightly as he groaned.

“Jack, please. You’re okay, it’s okay. I love you. Please,” I begged, sobbing against his bleeding face.

He winced and put his arm around me, digging his fingers into my back. “Run, Anna. Get away, please!”

Carter’s hands clamped around my upper arms, pulling me to my feet and away from Jack. The other two guys both bent and gripped Jack’s arms, pulling him up too. He screamed as they touched him. The sound of his pain made my legs feel weak. Carter wrapped his arms around me from behind and kissed my neck while Jack watched with a horrified expression on his face as he gasped for breath. Carter’s hand snaked up my side coming to rest on my breast, squeezing roughly. Before I knew it was going to happen, I bent over and was violently sick.

He laughed wickedly and pulled me back to him roughly, his chest pressing against my back. “I’m going to enjoy fucking your girlfriend and hearing her scream for you,” he said to Jack. Jack’s head snapped up, his eyes filled with hate and rage as he started struggling again even though he was probably in indescribable amounts of pain. The three guys laughed at him as he continued his futile struggle, shouting a string of expletives. “You have anything you want to say to your boyfriend?” Carter whispered in my ear.

Anything I want to say… Please let this be over, please just leave us so I can get some help. “I love you,” I croaked through my sobs.

“I love you too,” Jack whispered.

Carter nodded at his guys, and they lifted Jack off of his feet as if he weighed nothing at all. I tried to jerk forward but Carter had me pinned in place against him. I didn’t even get time to think about what was about to happen next, it all happened so fast that I could barely even comprehend it. The two guys carried Jack back a couple of feet and then threw him off the fire escape.

My heart stopped. Did they just throw him off the… No. No way. This had to be a dream; the worst dream I’d ever had in my life. I needed to wake up, I couldn’t take this. My ears registered his scream as it sounded for a couple of seconds during his fall. I heard a muffled thump and then all that was left was the echo of the music coming from the club behind me.

I couldn’t breathe. My heart was breaking into a million pieces as I replayed the last couple of seconds in my head. In my mind’s eye, I saw Jack’s face as the two guys’ hands left his body and he started falling. I’d never seen anyone look more terrified or helpless.

I threw off Carter’s hold and ran towards the railing, praying that he was somehow okay, praying that this was some kind of joke or dream and that I wasn’t going to see the love of my life when I looked down. I wasn’t that lucky though. As I leant over the railing and squinted through my tears, I saw the worst image I had ever seen in my life. Jack was sprawled out on the floor with a pool of blood seeping out underneath him. His arms and legs were at impossible angles; he wasn’t moving.

The pain in my heart doubled as my whole body seemed to go cold. We were three flights up; he wouldn’t have survived that after the beating he’d just sustained. The way he was lying there, motionless, I could tell there was no hope. He was gone.

I turned away quickly and was sick again. I was hyperventilating, struggling to draw breath as the image refused to leave my mind. My legs wouldn’t support me anymore, so I slumped into the pool of my own vomit. Silent tears fell down my face as my heart shattered into a million pieces.

The love of my life was dead. All our plans that we’d made would never happen. He'd died because of me. I’d wanted to come to this stupid club, and now he was dead. I hadn’t even had the chance to make love to him.

Black spots started to appear in my vision as I heard the rush of my blood pounding through my ears. I was going to pass out; I could feel the nothingness building inside me as my fingers and face started to tingle.

Jack was dead. He’d left me. I didn’t want to live – not without him. I couldn’t. The grief was crushing me.

I grabbed the railing and used the last of my strength to pull myself up onto my feet. I didn’t look down; I couldn’t see him like that again. I kept my eyes straight ahead as I swung my leg over the railing. Please let this kill me, I begged silently. Closing my eyes, I prepared to jump. My ears were ringing. I was numb. I let go of the railing and smiled because I wouldn’t have to feel this heartache any longer.

Just as the air stirred around me and I stepped into the nothingness, I felt something grab my waist.

“Whoa there, Princess. Now that’s just a waste.” I heard just before I passed out.

Chapter Two

~ Ashton Taylor ~

Sweat was running down my back as I stood there, straight as a poker, eyes front, hands down by my sides like I’d been taught. The blistering midday sun was beating down on me while I was decked out in full S.W.A.T uniform, including black, army style pants that have over a dozen pockets, black T-shirt, black tactical vest and jacket. They liked us to look good for these things.

“How long are they gonna make us stand here? I’m fucking dying!” Nate, my partner, hissed at me through his teeth.

“Not long now; Weston’s started to get hungry. See how he’s shifting in his seat? He’ll wrap this up soon and head straight for the buffet,” I whispered back jokingly. Nate grinned and glanced over at our commanding officer. As if on cue, Officer Weston rose to his feet. “Buffet table here we come,” I mumbled. Nate laughed next to me, quickly turning it into a cough when Officer Weston raised one eyebrow in warning.

“Attention, graduates. Training teams are going to be announced. For those of you that graduated top two in the class,” Officer Weston said, glancing at me and Nate proudly, “you will remain behind because you’ve already been assigned to departments.”

I smiled at those words. Nate and I had graduated top two of our year, with me in first place and it was an honour to be assigned to a department straight from graduation. It didn’t happen particularly often, and you were only offered it if your reputation was known of in high places. The two of us were a wicked partnership, and apparently I had been headhunted for a special mission of ‘utmost importance’, or so Weston had informed me this morning.

My insides squirmed in anticipation. I was hoping for SWAT Front Line; they were the guys who were always first on site, who always saw action, but I knew it wouldn’t be that. No one had ever gone into that team without at least ten years’ field experience. They were the best of the best, and usually they only had an opening if someone died or requested a transfer. I knew that neither had happened recently, but I still couldn’t help but hope.

Officer Weston finally finished his speech, and the guys all trailed off towards the hall, where they had laid on a buffet of stale sandwiches and potato chips. No expense spared. No one minded though because my entire graduating year was hitting a bar tonight in celebration, and I was planning on getting wasted.

Nate and I waited behind as requested. “Taylor, Peters, follow me,” Officer Weston ordered, walking into his shabby office. He sat down behind his desk and motioned for us to sit. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. “Right, Peters, your presence has been requested at Division Six,” he said proudly. I grinned happily and slapped Nate a high-five.

“Oh shit yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!” Nate shouted, jumping out of his chair and pumping the air with his fist.

“Sit down, Nate,” Weston laughed, shaking his head in amusement.

Division Six was a fantastic opportunity; he would get direct field experience, and they also had specialised areas which they could train you in. Nate wanted to be a sharp shooter and was incredible with long-range shooting.

“Okay, so they want you from Monday. You’ll report to Officer Tate at 9 a.m. sharp. Don’t be late. Here’s your file, make sure you read it,” Weston stated, handing Nate a brown envelope.

“Yes, sir, and thank you, sir,” Nate answered, saluting respectfully, yet grinning moronically.

“Okay, Nate, you go enjoy the food. I need to speak to Ashton in private,” Weston instructed, nodding for him to leave. I slapped Nate another high-five on his way past, silently praying that I got something as good as his. Officer Weston waited until the door closed before he spoke. “Ashton, you’ve been requested for something important. You’re not going to like this,” he winced, shaking his head.

My heart sank at the look on his face. This obviously wasn’t something good. “Okay, sir, I’m listening,” I said confidently. I was up for any challenge they could throw at me. I worked hard and it paid off. I had graduated first in every assessment, apart from long-range shooting, in which I came a close second to Nate. I held five different department records, including hand-to-hand combat, tactical planning, and hostage management. No one had ever graduated with the honours I had.

He sighed and held a brown envelope towards me. Frowning, I took it and tore it open eagerly, finding a police file inside for an Annabelle Spencer. I flicked it open curiously, not having a clue what this was about. On the first page, there was a photo of her. She was incredibly beautiful. According to this, she was nineteen and a college student.

I glanced up at Weston. “Who’s this?” I asked, confused as to why he had given me this girl’s file.

“That is the daughter of an extremely important man. She’s Annabelle Spencer, daughter of Senator Tom Spencer,” he said respectfully.

My interest was instantly piqued. Tom Spencer was a Presidential candidate who was expected to take over the oval office come the election later this year; he was highly respected and, from what I’d heard, was supposed to be a great man.

“Okay, so why do I have her file?” I questioned, flicking through it and scanning the pages. She was recently expelled from Stanford. She had attended four other colleges in the last year and a half, and had been expelled from every one for violence or damage to property.

“When she was sixteen, she was abducted by Carter Thomas. He killed her boyfriend in a club and then held her against her will for almost a year. The only reason she was found was because the police raided his home for drugs and discovered her there. You do know who Carter Thomas is, don’t you?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at me.

I nodded quickly. Everyone knew who Carter Thomas was; he was the head of a crime syndicate and responsible for the deaths of almost a thousand people when he’d set bombs off in the middle of rush hour in four different subways simultaneously. Everyone knew it was him, but it could never be directly proven, and key witnesses or evidence had a strange habit of going missing just in the nick of time. He regularly ran drugs and was heavily involved in human trafficking from Romania.

“He’s currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Miss Spencer’s boyfriend, Jackson Roberts. She was a witness for the prosecution, and there was also evidence that has linked him directly to the murder. Everyone knows who he is and what he does, but he’s always slipped through our fingers. The murder of Jackson Roberts is the only thing that’s ever gotten as far as a trial. Him being convicted was one of the best things for our country,” Weston said, his expression hard.

“Okay, sir, so what does this have to do with me?” I asked, still not understanding why I was being told about this in the first place.

Weston sat back in his chair. “Well, Carter Thomas has an appeal coming up later this year. Apparently, some evidence may have been incorrectly collected or something. Miss Spencer was the only witness that made it to the trial the first time; there’s a good chance she may be called to give evidence again. There have been death threats made against her, most of them because of who her father is, but lately her family have been receiving threats which they believe are coming from Carter’s organisation.”

He seemed to be watching me, waiting for my reaction. I still didn’t get it. I’d been selected for a special assignment, yet he was telling me about some girl. What did this have to do with me? This wasn’t SWAT business.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m just gonna say it; she goes through bodyguards like you do cold beers. She gets assigned a new one, and within a week she makes them quit. They refuse to work with her. She’s a real livewire from what I understand, a real hard-ass bitch. But this girl is extremely important, not only because she may be required to give evidence against Thomas, but also as the probable future President’s daughter. Her father has requested someone who will be able to deal with her on a day-to-day basis. There’s a specific age bracket because they’ll be required to attend college with her and essentially be her shadow until the end of the court case.”

It suddenly dawned on me where this meeting was going. I stared at him in disbelief, shaking my head and throwing the file onto his desk. “That’s complete bullshit! I’m SWAT; I’m not some fucking babysitter!” I shouted, pointing at the file distastefully.

“This isn’t up for debate. They wanted the best agent within an eight year age bracket, they picked the best agents across every department, sending the top ten to Senator Spencer, and he picked you specifically! You were the only graduate to be considered. You should consider this a great honour,” Weston said persuasively.

I growled in frustration. “Why are we even getting involved? If she’s the daughter of a Senator then this should be secret service, not us,” I countered.

He sighed. “She’s been through most of the guys there, Taylor. Plus, there aren’t that many agents there within the age bracket; most people go into secret service a little further down the line in their careers,” he explained, shrugging. He cocked his head to the side, his eyes boring into mine. “Ashton, it’s just until the end of the court case. Eight months, that’s all. Senator Spencer has guaranteed you your choice of posts after that time. Anything you want, even Front Line.”

My head snapped up at those words. “Seriously?”

He smiled and nodded. “I knew that would get your attention, but I need you to understand that this is a very important job. It may not sound it, but if she dies and the case falls apart, then Carter Thomas will be released and hundreds, if not thousands, of people could be killed over the coming years,” he said gravely.

Right, okay, I get it. Do a good job babysitting for eight months, get dream job. Done! “Okay, I understand, sir.” I was smiling now.

“You can’t tell anyone about this. You’ll need to say you’ve been assigned somewhere out of state. You’ll be undercover with her.” He picked up the file that I’d tossed onto his desk and handed it to me.

I flicked it open again and looked at the picture of the girl. Fuck, I sure hope I get undercover with her! I mused. She was just my type, dark hair and dark eyes, and she was the prettiest damn thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t tell what her body was like because she was wearing baggy jeans and a hoodie, but her face was so beautiful that she could be a supermodel.

“Okay, make sure you read the briefing file. There’s a DVD in there too, which is the security footage of her old school and the reason she got expelled. Like I said, she’s kind of a badass; the reasons for it are in the file, which doesn’t make for good bedtime reading.” He grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck as he said it. I looked down at the file nervously, wondering what could be so bad that Weston was all jittery and uncomfortable about it. “Right, well I guess that’s all. I’ve mocked up a fake assignment for you in case people ask. A flight has been booked for you for tomorrow morning and your tickets are in the back of the file. Pack casual; they’ll have stuff waiting there for you too, so don’t go too overboard with the clothes. Only a few people are in the loop on this due to the sensitivity of it; they’re not sure if there’s a leak in one of the departments, so if you need anything, you call either me or Commander Erikson. His details are in the back of the file. Good luck, Ashton,” he said finally.

He stood up, holding out his hand to me; I shook it then saluted him respectfully, before walking out the door. Heading around the corner, I pulled out the mock assignment, memorising all of the details before I went to join the party with the other graduates.

I didn’t stay out long with the other boys; my flight was due to leave at eight thirty the next morning, so I had to pack and make sure I was ready to leave. Once in the solitude of my bedroom, I grabbed the file and stretched out on my bed to read it. As I was expecting, it was pretty harrowing.

Annabelle had been held by Carter Thomas for just over ten months. He had thought of her as his girlfriend, even though he was nine years older than her. She hadn’t been allowed to leave his house and he would beat her and mentally torture her. She had tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists when she was first taken and had been found locked in a cupboard – bruised, broken and almost catatonic. She had refused to speak to anyone for two weeks after this, and then her first words were to a police officer, begging him to kill her.

I gulped and flipped to the next page, which showed photos of her the day she was found, and her injuries for the police file. They weren’t nice to look at. Bile rose in my throat at the sight of her swollen and bruised face and arms. The medical report showed she had a freshly broken rib and finger, and old, healed fractures of her ribs, wrist and collarbone.

My heart was beating out of my chest, grieving for the sixteen year old girl who witnessed her boyfriend’s murder and then was abused physically, mentally, and sexually for over ten months.

Three and a half years on, the nice, young girl that everyone loved had turned into a bitter, nasty bitch. She was socially alienated, shying away from all relationships, and emotionally cutting herself off from her friends and family. I wasn’t allowed ‘under any circumstances’ to touch her, unless the need arose in a combat situation. She had attempted suicide on two other occasions, both times by swallowing pills, but someone had found her in time. Both attempts had been on her birthday. I glanced at her date of birth and saw that her next birthday was in six months’ time. I made a mental note to be extra vigilant.

It appeared that Annabelle got into trouble a lot. I pushed the DVD into the player and sat on the floor to watch it, eager to see the reason she was excluded from her last school.

The footage came on, and a classroom came into focus. People were sitting around on desks, talking, obviously waiting for their lessons to start. I spotted her immediately; she was wearing baggy jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. As she walked past a guy who was laughing with his friends, he slapped her ass.

She practically jumped a mile into the air before rounding on him. “Don’t touch me,” she spat harshly.

“Sorry, princess,” he laughed, holding his hands up innocently.

She flinched as if he’d hit her. “Don’t ever call me that again,” she said quietly, looking both scared and angry at the same time.

“Call you what… princess?” he mocked.

She flinched again before her expression turned hard. “If you call me that again, I’m gonna break your nose and your balls,” she retorted.

The guy and his friends just laughed at her threat. She smiled sweetly as he bent his face close to hers. “Okay, princess,” he said sarcastically.

Before he could even flinch, she punched him in the stomach then kneed him in the groin. As he bent over in pain, she grabbed the back of his hair and smashed his face into her knee, breaking his nose easily. He slumped down to the floor, crying in agony.

She patted him on the head, still smiling sweetly. “Told ya,” she chirped, before grabbing her bag and storming out of the room with everyone watching her in shock.

I burst out laughing. She definitely was a badass.

I flicked through the rest of the file. Apparently, she didn’t have friends anymore, didn’t date, and didn’t go to parties. The notes said that she didn’t trust anyone and was extremely suspicious. She was bordering on depression and suffered from recurring night terrors. In the last three years, she had become totally focussed on martial arts and was well trained in self-defence, karate and kickboxing.

On the last page was my brief. I was to be posing as her boyfriend. I groaned out loud when I read the B word. I was to amend my age from my actual twenty-one to nineteen – the same as her. We would be doing the same college classes, which were Art and Graphic Design. I sighed deeply and carried on reading. I was to live with her on the college campus in a two bed apartment. I wasn’t allowed time off apart from the scheduled college breaks, at which time she would go back to the family home, and I would be allowed to do as I pleased because she would be protected by other agents.

There would be one other bodyguard in full uniform, which was the standard secret service bodyguard that they assigned to close family members of the Senator. The guy’s name was Dean Michaels. Apparently, they would assign a night guard to watch the building while we slept. I was to remain undercover at all times, which meant no dating and no sex for eight months. I groaned at that. This is going to be the longest eight months of my life.

Upon my arrival at the airport, I was to be collected by helicopter and taken to the Senator’s summer residence, where we would stay for almost a week, getting to know each other, before moving to the apartment for college. According to the file, Annabelle didn’t know about the death threats against her; she was just told that they were beefing up her security due to the upcoming election.

I stored the numbers of Officer Weston and Commander Erikson into my cell phone, and then started packing casual clothes for college. Afterwards, I crawled over to my bed in my crappy, little apartment that Nate and I rented together and climbed under the sheets. I’d said goodbye to the guys already. I was really going to miss Nate; we had become great friends during the last four years’ training. He was more like a brother to me in some ways.

I didn’t have anyone else to say goodbye to. I had no family; my parents had died in a car accident when I was ten, and I had bounced around from foster home to foster home until I was seventeen, when I had finally gotten a place of my own. I closed my eyes and willed myself to fall asleep quickly because tomorrow was going to be a long day.

The flight was good. It was only for two hours but they still put me in first class and I dozed off for almost the entire trip. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Every time I’d shut my eyes, I had seen Annabelle looking at me with her cold hard eyes, begging me to help her. Then I would pull open a cupboard to see her beaten and broken on the floor and I would jerk awake in a cold sweat. I had a feeling that this was going to be a harder assignment than I had first thought. I hadn’t even met her yet and already I wanted to protect her.

When the plane finally landed, I was ushered through the checkpoints to a private helipad on the other side of the airport. A tall guy in a black suit held his hand out to me; he was probably in his mid-thirties, with sandy hair and brown eyes.

“Hi, I’m Dean Michaels, Miss Spencer’s far guard,” he greeted me as I shook his hand.

I smiled politely. “Ashton Taylor. Nice to meet you.”

He showed me to the helicopter and we put on our headphones. “The trip’s about thirty minutes. You’ll like the summer house; it’s nice, and right on the lake,” he said, smiling.

“Right, sounds good. So, what can you tell me about Annabelle?” I asked, watching his face closely for his reaction.

He frowned before speaking and seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “Miss Spencer is very… difficult. You need to watch her all the time; she can get in trouble easily. She’s had twenty-three near guards in the last three years; the longest one lasted just over three months. I’ve worked as her far guard for a year and a half, and the only reason I’ve managed to last so long is because I don’t have regular contact with her.” He shook his head seeming a little annoyed.

“The near guards get fired within three months?” I asked, slightly panicky. If I couldn’t last the full eight months, I wouldn’t get my choice of assignments.

“No, man, they quit! She makes it her personal mission to make them leave. I think she sees it as some sort of challenge. Her record so far is four days,” he laughed.

A lump formed in my throat, so I quickly swallowed it. “So, she doesn’t want a near guard, or what?” I asked. What is it with this girl? Maybe she needs to know about the threats against her so that she’ll be easier to protect, because there is no way I’m quitting.

“Nope, she doesn’t want any guards at all. I think she tolerates me because I stay out of her way and keep a distance. She doesn’t like company; she’d rather be on her own. She’s been through a lot, and it’s changed her,” he replied casually.

“Does she know I’m coming?” I asked, looking out over the fields that we were flying over.

He laughed quietly. “Yeah.”

I looked back at his face; he shook his head and laughed again. I smiled in understanding. She didn’t want me there – that much was obvious from his reaction.

“Senator Spencer gave me your file. How the hell did a guy like you, who’s top of your class and the academy’s new golden boy, end up with a shitty assignment like this?” he asked, looking genuinely curious.

I closed my eyes and rested my head on the seat back. “I have no idea,” I mumbled. I was still asking myself the same question. I could see the importance of it, but surely there could have been someone else for the job that came from a protection background. I stayed quiet for the rest of the trip.

After what seemed like forever, we landed outside an expansive house that was right on the lake. I followed Dean into the house, trying not to react to the sheer size of it. I trudged behind him, looking around in awe at the real wooden floors, the heavy drapes, the framed artwork on the walls. It was like something out of a magazine. Dean stopped outside a door and chatted to a lady sitting at the desk; she was probably in her mid-fifties and she glanced over at me with a friendly smile.

I cleared my throat and put out my hand in greeting. “Hello, ma’am. Ashton Taylor, it’s nice to meet you.”

Her eyes widened as her gaze flicked over me before placing her hand in mine. “It’s nice to meet you too. My name’s Maddy Richards and I’m Senator Spencer’s Personal Assistant. I’ll just let him know you’re here, he’d like to speak to you,” she said in a business-like tone. She picked up the phone and spoke briefly. “Okay he’s free right now, you can go in.” She nodded towards a door on my right.

A wave of nerves suddenly hit me as I realised that I was about to meet the probable next President of the United States. I swallowed my nerves and went in as instructed. He was sat behind a large, wooden desk, and there was a lady sitting on the couch, drinking tea. She was very pretty and had dark brown hair, which she had pulled into a bun, and brown eyes. She looked somewhat familiar; maybe I’d seen her on TV or something.

Senator Spencer stood up, smiling at me, and walked over, holding out his hand. He was a very imposing man on television, but it was even more apparent in person. He oozed confidence and ability, and had an air about him that certainly explained why he was tipped to win the upcoming election.

I shook his hand confidently. “It’s very nice to meet you, sir.”

“You too, Agent Taylor. This is my wife, Melissa.” He gestured to the lady on the couch. I turned and smiled as it clicked into place why she’d looked so familiar when I stepped into the room. She looked like Annabelle, but Annabelle had a radiant beauty that far surpassed her mother’s.

“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” I nodded.

“You too. Hopefully you’ll last longer than the other near guards; Annabelle needs some stability,” she said sadly.

Senator Spencer cleared his throat. “So, Agent Taylor, I’ve read your file, and I must say it’s mighty impressive. Your reputation is incredible at the agency. They have exceptionally high hopes for you.” He gestured to the couch for me to sit. “You’ve read your brief, I assume?” I nodded in confirmation and sat as instructed. “Do you have any questions before you meet Annabelle?”

I nodded. “Only one, sir. I was wondering why you don’t just tell Miss Spencer about the threats so that she would be more cooperative with her guards. It would be a lot easier to protect her, and ultimately make her safer, if she were more accommodating.”

Mrs Spencer gasped and the Senator shook his head fiercely. “Annabelle is very fragile. She doesn’t like to show it, but she’s still grieving for Jack, and what that animal did to her.” His hand clenched into a fist before he took a deep breath and composed himself. I liked this guy already. “She can’t be told. She barely copes as it is, she doesn’t need anything else to worry about on top.” He stood up and walked to his desk, picking up his phone. “Maddy, could you have Annabelle come in here now, please?”

His face still looked sad with deep pain across it. This man had worries about his daughter that no father should ever have to go through. I hadn’t thought about them when I read her file. Thinking about it now though, I realised that they had been through hell too. Their sixteen year old daughter goes missing, presumed dead, then months later she’s found broken, abused, and totally a changed person. They had to watch her sink into depression and attempt suicide and turn into a cold, heartless person, and now they couldn’t even hug her or hold her hand.

The phone on the desk buzzed, and Maddy’s voice came through the intercom. “Senator, Annabelle’s here,” she announced.

“Okay, Maddy, send her in,” the Senator answered, glancing at me, his expression almost apologetic.

A few seconds later she walked into the room. As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew I was in trouble. She looked so incredibly vulnerable. Her eyes were cold and distant and held a pain that I couldn’t bear to think about. She had seen things that no one should ever see. Carter had broken not only her body, but her spirit too.

Her eyes only flicked to me for a split second and held no reaction whatsoever before she turned to her father. My heart skipped a beat and my stomach tied in a knot. I wanted to run to her, wrap my arms around her, and tell her everything would be okay. I wanted to make her smile and hear her laugh.

Oh fuck it; I really am in deep shit!

Chapter Three

~ Anna ~

When my cell phone vibrated on the side, I was laying on my bed with my arm covering my eyes, trying to block out the midmorning sun that was streaming through my window. I groaned and rolled to the side, stretching my arm out to reach for it. Every single one of my muscles protested from the slight movement. My whole body hurt from the run that I’d taken earlier in the morning. I’d pushed it too far today. After speaking to my father first thing and learning that I was going to be getting a new near guard today, and the bombshell that he’d dropped on me about the guy posing as my boyfriend, I’d taken my frustrations out in the gym, running on the treadmill until I’d vomited and almost passed out.

Finally catching my phone with my fingertips, I pressed it to my ear and stared up at the ceiling. “Yeah, what?” I muttered into the phone, already knowing what this would be about. My father had told me that I’d get a call when the new guard arrived, and I would have to show him around the house and get to know him ready for next week when we both went to the new school.

Maddy’s overly cheerful voice greeted me. “Hi, Annabelle. Could you come down to your father’s office, please? Agent Taylor is here, and he’d like to meet you.”

I sighed and closed my eyes in defeat. “Fine, I’ll be there in a minute.” I disconnected the call before she could answer, and then headed out of my room on my wobbly legs. As I trudged through the house, I kept my eyes on the ground so that no one would try to speak to me. Not that they tried often anymore; I’d made it clear to people that I didn’t want to interact.

As I let myself into Maddy’s office, she looked up and smiled, but it was tight and wary. It seemed as if everyone had a problem with how to behave around me now. “You’ll like this one, Annabelle, he’s so handsome!” she gushed, raising one eyebrow excitedly.

I frowned and folded my arms across my chest as I made a distasteful, scoffing sound in the back of my throat. Her comment was both inappropriate and unwelcome. It didn’t matter what he looked like, all that mattered was the fact that I didn’t want another guard. All they ever did was come in, disrupt my life, and then leave me after a couple of months when they realised that I wasn’t even worth protecting.

When she waved her hand at my father’s office door, signalling for me to go in, I shoved it open and stepped inside. The room went quiet instantly, and my gaze flicked to the stranger standing in the middle of the room.

I felt my eyes widen from shock. Maddy was right, he certainly was handsome. His black hair was shorter around the sides, but fell across his forehead messily, and he had the most beautiful dark green eyes that I had ever seen. His face was perfect, just like an angel’s. His body would be incredible too – I could see that even though it was covered by a plain, white T-shirt and ripped jeans. He actually looked like he’d just stepped out of a magazine shoot and was easily the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.

I took all this in within a second before my eyes went back to his. His gaze was raking over me slowly, his mouth slightly open as he took in every inch of me, making me want to squirm on the spot or run away as fast as my legs would carry me. Lust was written plain across his angelic features, and it made my stomach ache.

I kept my expression neutral and quickly looked away to my father, who was watching me with tight eyes. Clearly he was uncomfortable after our little spat that had taken place in my bedroom this morning when he’d told me about this new guarding arrangement.

“So, this is him then? The new near guard boyfriend,” I asked, saying the last word angrily.

He nodded. “Yes, Annabelle. This is Agent Taylor. Agent Taylor, this is my daughter, Annabelle Spencer,” my dad answered, looking between the two of us warily.

The beautiful stranger extended his right hand towards me. “Hi, Miss Spencer, I’m Ashton. It’s nice to meet you.”

I recoiled slightly, but tried not to show my nerves. I didn’t like to show people that I was afraid. My eyes flicked down to his extended hand and my heart started to race at the thought of him touching me. Physical attention, especially from men I didn’t know, made my lungs constrict and my body go cold. It had done ever since Carter. I glanced back up at the agent’s face. He was smiling at me; his eyes warm and friendly. I swallowed the fear away and raised my hand to his, trying to be confident, but I could see that I was shaking as I shook his hand briefly. His eyes never left mine, making me feel slightly relaxed, despite the fact that a man I didn’t know was touching me. As I dropped his hand, I stepped back and folded my arms over my chest; my mother was watching me with wide eyes as if waiting to see what I would do.

I raised my chin as I faked a confident smile, dragging my eyes over him from his head down to his toes. “Well, Ashton, you don’t look like the normal guys I get assigned. I’m gonna be generous and say that you’ll last a week, maybe even ten days, before you request a reassignment,” I teased cockily.

One side of his full lips pulled up as he shook his head. “Actually, Miss Spencer, I’m here for eight months, and I don’t quit,” he replied confidently, folding his arms across his chest too, mirroring me.

The arrogance he was exuding made one of my eyebrows rise, but I fought desperately to hold back any reaction to him. “You can call me Anna.” I waved my hand dismissively, ignoring his attitude.

“Anna it is then.” His answering smile was gorgeous and seemed to light his whole face.

My mother cleared her throat obviously. “Why don’t you show Agent Taylor to his room, Annabelle? Maybe you could give him a tour of the house and grounds too. Show him where the lake is.”

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