Authors: Lori Foster
New York Times
bestselling author Lori Foster captivated readers with her stories of love, justice and danger in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series. Now, fan-favorite Chris Chapey gets his own story!
When the going gets tough, the tough turn to Chris Chapey. As the right-hand man to a group of take-no-prisoners mercenaries, Chris can organize a top-secret rescue mission with his eyes closed. But when it comes to his personal life, Chris is the one who needs a little help.
His problem: Matt Houser. Chris can’t deny his attraction to Matt, but Matt has no idea what Chris’s job really entails and how much it means to him. Matt challenges Chris to change his life—and make a place for him in it. Can Chris risk telling him the truth?
Look for more titles in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series, available now from Lori Foster and Harlequin HQN:
A Perfect Storm, Savor the Danger, Trace of Fever
When You Dare.
WHAT CHRIS WANTS
New York Times
Chris Chapey appeared in each of my Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor books, and any time he was on the page, he stole the show.
I hadn’t planned a book for Chris. Much as I loved him, to me, he was strictly a supporting character. A super awesome, hilariously funny, wonderfully loyal and oh-so-handsome…secondary character.
But so many of you wrote to me asking for his story that my muse went into overtime. Pretty soon, Chris joined you in insisting that I write him a Happy Ever After, and so…I did.
I hope you enjoy this novella, and that Chris, as always, leaves you with a satisfied smile.
My best to all,
In one smooth,
clean move, Chris Chapey dove into the lake, counting on the cool water and the blazing afternoon sun to lull his turbulent thoughts.
Up the hill, from where they were collected on the deck for another big gathering, he heard the muted conversation of badass men and strong women. Friends he loved. People he admired.
Right now, he felt very apart from them.
His fault, not theirs.
Barely moving his legs to stay afloat, Chris closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the gentle lap of the water. Usually that worked.
Not this time.
He thought back to when he and Dare Macintosh had shared this property alone, Dare in his expansive house up the hill, Chris in his smaller home that sat closer to the lake. Because Dare’s job as a high-level mercenary required ultimate security, Chris’s duties as his right-hand man covered just about everything—from keeping Dare’s records and doing computer work to stocking the fridge and exercising Dare’s beloved dogs. For a very long time, their only visitors had been Dare’s partner, Trace Rivers, and occasionally Trace’s sister, Alani.
Through the years, Dare and Trace had built up contacts in the government, the military and within all the highest-profile businesses. They had friends in high places and better friends in low places. Although they remained based in Kentucky and Ohio, their far-reaching influence allowed them to succeed where local authorities couldn’t.
The success came at a personal cost. Given the top-secret nature of their work, Dare and Trace didn’t trust easily, and because their lives depended on it, they’d guarded their privacy against all intrusions.
But then, while on a mission to save Alani from the human traffickers who’d kidnapped her, Dare had also rescued Molly Alexander. In short order, they’d fallen in love and married. No problem. Chris enjoyed seeing Dare so happy.
Not too long after that, Trace had met Priss Patterson…and married her. By then, Dare and Trace had brought a third man, Jackson Savor, into the organization. Jackson had fallen hard for Trace’s sister, Alani, and they were not only married now, but they also had a beautiful little girl whom
adored, most especially Chris.
Having those ladies as regulars at the lake hadn’t prepared anyone for Arizona Storm. She was like a little sister to Jackson, and had been by far the most wounded soul Chris had ever met. Thank God Spencer Lark had proved a reasonable, determined man. He’d not only won Arizona’s heart, but also respect from Trace and Dare and acceptance from Jackson. Even before Spencer had proposed to Arizona, he’d been invited to join the mercenaries’ ranks.
Together they all made up one big happy family of matrimonial bliss.
Disgusted with himself, Chris dunked his head under the water, shoved his hair away from his face and flipped to his back to float.
Low laughter and conversation drifted around him. Dare and Molly loved holding court, inviting everyone to hang out whenever the men weren’t off on another mission. Marriage hadn’t slowed them down; if anything, love made them only more determined to protect others from abuse. They were good at that, at saving innocents, infiltrating situations that others couldn’t, making a difference when the law failed.
Leaving without a trace.
Off to his right, a fat carp jumped out of the water and landed with a splash. Chris barely acknowledged the disturbance.
Someone called down to him, but he pretended not to hear.
Damn it, for a man who didn’t like to stew, lately he’d done an awful lot of it.
In sharp contrast to the chilly water, a hot breeze stirred the air. Chris felt his lax body drifting under the dock, but he didn’t care enough to open his eyes, to readjust. Limbs limp, relaxed, he did his best to tune out the world.
Until he heard the baby’s gurgling laughter.
A reluctant smile curved his mouth. Jackson and Alani enjoyed showing off their little angel, and why not? God, that little girl was about the most precious thing ever. Until he’d held her in his arms, Chris hadn’t even known that he liked kids.
Footsteps sounded on the dock overhead. Completely hidden beneath, Chris cracked open one eye, but held silent. Nothing. Maybe whoever it was had decided not to intrude.
He closed his eye again and heard a bigger splash, one of the human variety. A second later, Matt Houser emerged next to him.
Allowing his body to straighten, Chris gave up his peaceful floating and planted his feet on the muddy bottom of the lake. “When did you get here?”
“A few minutes ago.” And then in defiance: “Priss invited me.”
Yeah, Matt and Priss had bonded from the get-go. Because she had no other family, Matt had even stood up with her at her wedding to Trace.
It had been kind of hilarious how Trace had reacted to their fast friendship. Never mind that Matt was gay; any man who got too close to her earned Trace’s scrutiny. Well, before they were married, anyway. Now Trace still kept a very watchful eye on her, but he acted less like a caveman.
Matt waited, probably hoping that Chris would explain why
hadn’t been the one to invite him. Instead he asked, “Where is Priss?”
“Up at the house.”
Few people knew of Dare’s house, much less set foot on his property. It required an invitation, and admission past the high-tech security system.
Trust was not an easy commodity among the men. And yet…they trusted Matt.
Because Chris trusted him.
Matt’s pale-blond hair stood up in spikes atop his head. Repeated trips to the lake had left his muscular shoulders tanned. A small silver earring glinted in his ear.
It took a little effort, but Chris looked away. “If you came to see her—”
“You know I came to see you.” With hardly a ripple in the water, Matt drifted closer. “Because she’s a friend, I asked Priss if you were seeing anyone else.”
That had to be a joke. “You gossiped about me?”
Matt ignored his ire. “She said you aren’t.”
“Hate to break it to you, but Priss isn’t privy to my social calendar.”
Uneasy, Matt looked around, waiting, listening. Voices carried on the lake, but the drone of conversation up the hill continued uninterrupted, ensuring that no one listened to them.
Chris used both hands to splash his face with the cold water, but it didn’t help him get it together. Matt’s nearness left him hot and antsy. His persistence was…flattering.
In a much quieter tone, Matt asked, “So you are?”
“No.” Unwilling to say more, Chris swam away, going to the end of the dock.
Before he could swim out into the open, Matt caught his arm. “Do you want me to leave?”
Summoning up his usual, cavalier tone, Chris said, “Stay if you want.”
“I’m asking what you want.”
Keeping his back to Matt, Chris stared out at the smooth surface of the lake. This was his home. A part of him. But he understood the parameters of belonging here.
He avoided a direct answer. “I like my life here.”
“Being Dare’s errand boy?”
Even knowing that it was hurt more than disdain that put the sneer in Matt’s tone, Chris’s temper spiked. He rounded on Matt. “That’s what you think?”
Matt didn’t back down; he closed the small distance between them. “That you’ve built your life around Dare? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Caring for
dogs, living on
property in a house he
“The house is part of my pay.” A perk, for being so indispensable. And given the extent of Chris’s duties, he’d more than earned it.
The comfortable home suited him perfectly. He was close when sudden business took Dare out of town, but he had his own measure of privacy. And the dogs…damn it, he loved them like they were his own.
Only…they weren’t his. He ran a hand through his wet hair.
Matt touched his shoulder. “You could have more.” Unspoken, but loud and clear, was his message:
You could have me.
Chris’s chest tightened. He told himself it was anger at being pushed, but he knew the truth.
What he felt was regret.
.” Over the years, he’d gotten so comfortable with his routine—a routine that accommodated every facet of Dare’s life—that he could no longer imagine working a nine-to-five job, punching a clock for someone else. Driving back and forth to work. Sitting in an office.
Wearing a suit
. He shuddered at the thought.
Frustration palpable, Matt narrowed his eyes. He released Chris and instead braced a hand on the wooden ladder leading up to the dock. Gaze averted, he muttered, “So that’s it, huh?”
What else was there to say? He didn’t want to leave his life, to start over, and more than that, he didn’t want to abandon Dare.
Chris followed the progress of a spider in the boards over his head, watching as it went from one end of a web to another.
It was then that he saw the very blue eye staring down at him through a space in the decking.
Scowling, he pushed out from under the dock, grabbed the ledge and hauled himself up.
Stretched out on her stomach, Arizona smiled at him. “Hey.”
“You were listening in!”
“Well, duh. Seriously, guys, we could all hear you.”
Chris looked beyond her, up the hill. Everyone made a show of talking, interacting…trying to pretend not to pay attention. Bringing his gaze back to Arizona, Chris said, “But you’re the only one down here butting in.”
Going up to her elbows and propping her chin on her fists, Arizona nodded. “Yeah, that’s me. The pushy one.”
“What do you want, Arizona?”
“To tell you that you’re an idiot. But I wanted to say it to Matt, too, so…” She put her face back down to the dock and peered down at Matt. “You might as well come on out, you big chicken.”
Up at the house, Spencer called, “Arizona, honey, come back up here. Leave them be.”
She yelled over her shoulder, “No.” And then, with another smile aimed at Chris, she said, “You know I want you to be happy.”
God. As Matt climbed the ladder to join her on the dock, Chris dropped back with a splash.
“Chris?” She came to stand at the edge, staring down at him.
He splashed her, soaking the front of her shirt. “Butt out.”
Gasping at the cold water, she held her shirt away from her body and huffed. “Don’t be childish.”
“Ha!” He splashed her again, this time drenching her hair. “You’re one to talk.”
Mouth open, face dripping, she stared at him. Then made a clean dive in, clothes and all.
Chris laughed as he started back-paddling. He was a better swimmer than Arizona, so he could have gotten away. But it wasn’t that long ago that she’d been scared to death of the water—a residual effect from when flesh-peddling bastards had tried to drown her.
Remembering that, thinking of how much she’d changed, he waited for her, and when she broke the surface of the water, he grabbed her around the waist and tossed her up.
She went into the air with a screech and landed with a gigantic splash, her long, dark hair flying everywhere.
Suddenly Tai and Sargie, Dare’s dogs, leapt in, too. The next thing Chris knew, everyone was down the hill and joining him for a swim.
While fending off Arizona’s attempts to dunk him, he saw Matt try to leave. Priss stood in his way, alternately arguing with and hugging him, and finally pushing him in.
Somehow, because of his friends, the mood lightened. Priss laughed and Matt, wading over to sit on the retaining wall, stopped trying to storm off.
Chris was glad. Damn it, he liked having Matt around. Probably too much, given the restrictions involved. But he also liked the current setup, the freedom of his lifestyle with Dare, the importance of his computer work.
The love of his family.
And they were family, Chris thought, watching as Jackson cradled the baby in his arms so protectively. Alani spread a blanket in the shade of a giant oak and Jackson joined her there. Molly and Priss peeled off their cover-ups and sat on the edge of the dock, letting their feet dangle in the water.
Spencer dove in, and soon after he had Arizona in an embrace, kissing and laughing with her.
In his quiet way, Dare said to Chris, “I’m taking the boat out if you want to ski.”
“Sure thing, thanks.” Chris swam closer to Matt. It should have been awkward, given the conversation they’d just had, but it never was, not with Matt. “Most everyone will go for a boat ride. But Jackson and Alani might hang back.”
Lake water clumped Matt’s eyelashes and beaded on his smooth, muscular chest. “Okay.”
Chris watched as Matt wrung out his shirt. “You want to ride along?”
Surprised by the offer, Matt looked up, then over him, his attention snagging at the waistband of Chris’s low-hanging, sodden shorts. Voice going lower, he murmured, “Sure.”
Chris wasn’t immune to that heated study. “I guess we’re grilling dinner afterward—”
“I know.” His gaze met Chris’s again. “Priss already invited me.”
Priss again. Their friendship could prove a problem.
But not now. Not tonight.
“She did, huh?”
Matt’s eyes narrowed. “She likes me.”
“Yeah, I know.” Chris liked him, too. More than liked him, but he wouldn’t say so. Giving up on thoughts of the future, at least for now, he looked around at his friends—who all made a point of not looking back. “So. You want to spend the night with her, too?”
Busy draining the water out of his shoes, Matt jerked his head up. “What?”
Chris took a step closer and lowered his voice. “Or would you rather stay the night with me?” It wouldn’t be the first time, but now it felt different, maybe because Matt had pressed things.
Tension built. “Are you saying…?”
“That you can stay over.” And even though Chris had just acknowledged the difference to himself, he said, “Don’t make any more of it than that.”
The seconds ticked by.
Trace announced, “We’re ready to go.”
“Me, too.” Chris started to wade away.