In His Keeping

Book 2 in the Slow Burn Series

A twisting tale featuring a strong yet vulnerable heroine in danger and the sexy alpha hero who must save her.

Abandoned as a baby to a young wealthy couple and raised in a world of privilege, Arial has no hint of her past or who she belonged to. Her only link lies in the one thing that sets her apart from everyone else—telekinetic powers. Protected by her adoptive parents and hidden from the public to keep her gift secret, Ari is raised in the lap of luxury, and isolation. That is, until someone begins threatening her life.

Beau Devereaux is no stranger to the strange. As the head of Deveraux Security, he’s more than familiar with the realities of physic powers. So when a family friend approaches him about protecting his daughter, he’s more than ready to jump on board. What Beau isn’t prepared for is the extent of his attraction to his beautiful and powerful client. What began as a simple assignment, just another job, quickly turns personal as Beau discovers he’ll do anything at all to protect Ari. Even if it costs him his life.

In His Keeping

Chapter Eight

Ari pulled her oversized purse closer to her body and walked at a fast pace toward the entrance of the building that housed Devereaux Security Services. She was dressed in a manner to indicate wealth and elegance. Designer clothing, diamond earrings and designer sunglasses with an Hermès scarf covering her head as if to protect her hair from the wind when in fact the sunglasses and scarf were to hide her distinctive hair and eyes, not to mention the bruises that colorfully adorned her face.

The car she’d parked curbside where she wasn’t boxed in by cars front and back was a sleek BMW M6 convertible that comfortably fit the image she was trying to project. And it had the added benefit of being fast. Five hundred and eighty horses under the hood. She remembered every single detail her father had shared with her on every vehicle in his possession. The M6 was faster, more powerful, than a Mustang, a Camaro—even the ZL1—and the Corvette, though it would likely be a tight race with the latter.

While before she’d wanted an impenetrable moving fortress, now she wanted something easier to navigate and a vehicle capable of outrunning most others. If nothing else, her father had drummed into her the importance of advance thinking and planning.

She’d carefully considered her options when she’d gone to retrieve the contents of a safe-deposit box her father held at one of the local banks. He’d set it up so that if she were ever in trouble or need, she could access cash and alternate identity, including driver’s licenses and passports—three total in all.

It had never occurred to her to question her father as to why the thought had even crossed his mind that she’d need such things. She knew well how protective he was of her and so she’d shrugged off his actions as him being paranoid and overprotective. But perhaps he’d been all too right in preparing for the worst, because that was now what she was facing, and she was grateful for her father’s foresight. She’d lived her life in a protective bubble, and now, for the first time, she didn’t have her father to fall back on and have fix all her problems. It was up to her to get herself out of the mess she was in.

The people pursuing her would likely suspect her to do just the opposite of what she’d done. They would expect her to dress in an unassuming manner, try not to look like the daughter of a wealthy man rather than boldly going out in public with a car and clothing that would attract attention. In essence, Ari was hiding in plain sight, hoping that she was right about them looking for someone trying to hide the trappings of money and prestige. And if they’d been watching her, which she assumed had to be the case, or at the very least had done their homework, then they’d know she normally dressed casually, preferring jeans and a T-shirt to designer clothing. More at home in flip-flops than the elegant heels she wore right now. And well, she had no qualms about ditching the heels and fleeing barefoot if it came to that.

Her stride was brisk and confident, her chin slightly lifted so she had an unobscured view of her surroundings at all times. She took in everything, searching for any sign of threat. Anything that looked . . . dangerous, though she wasn’t sure how someone saw imminent danger. If everyone wore a warning sign screaming danger, then no one would ever be caught off guard, so the notion was silly that she could somehow spot a threat in the steady stream of people bustling down the sidewalk.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she entered the building, glad to be off the busy street and out of view of anyone watching. She signed in at the security desk, using one of the aliases she’d retrieved from the safe-deposit box, making sure she didn’t appear nervous and agitated when both had their vicious claws firmly entrenched in her chest. After receiving her badge to get through the turnstile to the elevators, she hurried through, her anxiety mounting with every breath.

Her father had told her on more than one occasion that if something were to happen to him, or if Ari needed help, she was to go to Caleb or Beau Devereaux, preferably Caleb, as he was the oldest. He hadn’t explained his relationship with the Devereauxs, but he’d been adamant that she trust only them and no one else. And just as she hadn’t questioned the need for cash and aliases stashed in a safe-deposit box, neither had she queried him about his relationship with the Devereauxs, although she found it odd that she’d never met the men he’d told her to turn to if necessary.

She just hoped her father was right. Already, they’d been betrayed by men her father trusted. Who was to say the Devereauxs were any different? But what choice did she have?

She had none. Her lips formed a grim line as she stepped from the elevator on the floor Devereaux Security Services occupied. She had no choice but to trust the men her father evidently trusted and pray she hadn’t made a huge mistake in going to them for help.

 


 

Beau glanced up from his desk when the silent alarm triggered a flash of light to his office, notifying him that someone had just come into the lobby of their firm. His office was strategically placed with a two-way reflecting mirror so he could monitor and form an impression of a potential client. People often gave themselves away when they didn’t think they could be seen or heard.

A petite woman walked hesitantly toward their receptionist, Anita, and from his vantage point he could see her hands tremble, though she tried valiantly to hide that fact. He frowned, taking in the fact that she neither removed her sunglasses nor her scarf and instead remained hidden. Disguised, no doubt.

He pressed the intercom button that would allow him to listen in on the conversation between the woman and Anita, his interest piqued. He found himself leaning forward as though it gave him the advantage of being closer, though the glass separated them.

At one point, the woman, still silent, glanced sideways, her gaze resting on the glass wall. Since he couldn’t see her eyes, he had no idea what she was thinking or if she suspected someone was watching her. But he got the uneasy feeling she knew exactly what the glass really was.

“Miss?” Anita prompted the woman again. “Is there something I can help you with? Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” the woman said in a soft, quivering voice. “I mean yes.” She took a deep breath and visibly let her shoulders sag as though she were gathering the courage to give her reason for being here. Beau could readily picture her closing her eyes in that moment of desperation.

“I don’t have an appointment I meant,” she said quietly. “But yes, you can help me. God, I hope you can. I need to speak with Caleb or Beau Devereaux, preferably Caleb if he’s available. It’s . . . important,” she added, more desperation creeping into her voice.

Beau’s eyebrows immediately rose. He was certain he’d never met this woman and the way she’d called them out told him she at least knew of them, because it wasn’t widely publicized that either Beau or Caleb was actively involved in the actual running of Devereaux Security Services.

Dane was the front man. The face of DSS. Anytime interviews were granted, any police involved, et cetera, Dane handled it while Beau and Caleb stayed in the background. Though ever since marrying Ramie, his brother had turned more responsibility for the operation of DSS to Beau and their younger brother Quinn.

Quinn handled all the financial shit as well as the background checks, not only for potential operatives, but also on the people who wanted to hire DSS. Things Beau didn’t have the patience for. Beau conferred with Dane on which clients they took on and which were referred elsewhere. Because many of the so-called clients were actually people who wanted to get to Ramie—and her powers. And over Caleb’s dead body would that ever happen.

Beau pressed a button next to the intercom to send a signal only visible to Anita or anyone behind her desk. There were only two colors the light flashed. Red or green. Red meant for Anita to tell the prospective client that no one was available and to gently herd them away. Green meant to show the person back to one of the offices. In this case, Beau’s.

Anita never missed a beat, her gaze not betraying the fact that the light had indicated her next move.

“I’m sorry to say that Caleb is unavailable.”

Before she could finish, the woman’s hand fluttered to her mouth and then clenched into a tight ball against her lips. Beau could practically feel the panic that radiated from her in waves.

“Beau is in, however, and will see you immediately,” Anita continued quickly. She too had picked up on the woman’s reaction and now she hastened to calm the woman.

The woman’s entire body sagged. Beau feared her legs would give out. He frowned because she might not be able to make the walk to his office. She was shaking like a leaf.

He was up and on his feet in a split second and quickly opened his office door. He strode into the lobby, hoping his presence would soothe rather than freak the woman out.

She turned, obviously startled to see him there so close to her. It was then that he saw what she’d obviously tried hard to conceal, and would have if the light hadn’t hit her face just right. There was a bruise on the side of her chin and evidence of a crack in the corner of her mouth. It would appear that someone had struck her.

There could be a million other reasons why the woman wore a bruise, but one, he’d seen the worst life had to offer and the terrible things people did to other people so his first instinct was to always think the worst. And two, if the bruise was innocent in nature—an accident of sorts—then why would she go to such extremes to hide it?

She took a tentative step back and he didn’t move. He simply stood there, allowing her perusal without interruption. It was apparent she was sizing him up. Perhaps deciding if she could trust him.

“You wanted to see me?” Beau asked in a neutral tone.

Her fingers twisted together in a ball at her stomach. She sucked her bottom lip inward and then winced as though she’d forgotten the injury to her lip. She started to lift a hand to it, but then as if realizing that by doing so she’d only draw unwanted attention to the bruise, she let her hand fall back to her side.

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “I need your help.”

Beau glanced in Anita’s direction and she gave him a quick dip of her head, knowing what he wanted. She would hold all calls and take care of anything that cropped up while he was with the woman so nothing disturbed them.

Beau gestured for the woman to proceed toward his office but she hesitated. Slowly, he put his hand on her forearm. Nothing alarming or sudden and he kept his touch infinitely gentle.

“Come,” he said, nudging her forward.

Her shoulders squared and she looked resolutely ahead as if shaking off her earlier trepidation. At his door, she took the initiative and walked inside, leaving him to follow. He shut the door behind them and then turned to face his mystery woman who’d asked for him by name.

Her gaze was on the two-way mirror, a frown on her lips.

“I could feel you watching me,” she said in a low, accusing tone.

“Not that it did me any good,” he said mildly.

He went to sit behind his desk in his chair so he wouldn’t appear threatening to her. He was well acquainted with the look of an abuse victim. God knows they’d seen more than a few. So he knew his size and demeanor could be intimidating and come across in a menacing manner to a woman already wary of men.

But he was also blunt, and on more than one occasion people had been put off by his straightforward manner. It was who he was, and he knew he would never change. So he couldn’t be any other way now, when perhaps a lighter touch was called for.

“Before we get to what you has you scared to death, take off the glasses and lose the scarf.”

She went rigid, staring at him behind the dark lenses. He could feel her gaze on him, studying him, the prickle of awareness at his nape.

“Is it the bruises you’re trying to hide? Or is it you who needs to be hidden?”

Her hand went automatically to her face, but she didn’t touch the bruise on the side of her chin. It went to cover one of the lenses of the glasses. It was his automatic reaction to scowl at the thought that there was more than one bruise. And as soon as she took in the look on his face, she stirred, turning toward the door.

“You’re safe here,” Beau said gently. “But I need to know everything so that I can help you and that begins by you shedding the glasses and scarf and then you telling me what kind of trouble brings you to me and my brother. By name,” he added.

She must be holding her breath because she was so utterly still that he couldn’t detect the rise and fall of her chest. Then she let the air from her lungs escape in a long exhale. She swayed wearily and then put her hand down to find the arm of one of the chairs in front of Beau’s desk.

Slowly, she reached up and tugged at the scarf. Evidently her hair had been pinned to the scarf, because when she pulled the scarf free, a silken mass came tumbling down her shoulders and arms. The color was unique. He could understand why she’d gone to such pains to disguise it. It was various shades of blond but contained silvery highlights intertwined with warm brown strands. There were at least six different shades reflected in the light of his office.

Her hand shaking, she grasped the sunglasses and pulled them away, casting her gaze downward so he didn’t see her right away. But when she finally lifted her chin so that their eyes met, his widened in recognition. Her eyes, just like her hair, were distinctive. He was fascinated by how they seemed to change color when she moved even a little and light caught glittering specks of aqua and gold. If asked, he couldn’t actually state what color her eyes were. How did one explain a turbulent mixture of the ocean, the sun and the brightest jewels?

And as he’d suspected, there were other bruises. One eye was swollen and had turned a dark purple. Only a slit allowed him to see the eye on that side.

Even with the swelling in one eye there was something decidedly electric in her gaze. He wondered if she was indeed psychic. There were suddenly a dozen questions he wanted to ask her, but he refrained because she was wearing bruises when none of the three punks who’d gone after her had been rough with her, no doubt, but hadn’t touched her face. Someone else had hurt her and it pissed him off. And there was also the fact that she was here, in his office, having asked for him by name, and she was clearly scared to death. That kind of fear couldn’t be faked unless she was a damn good actress, and he couldn’t think of a reason why she’d lie to him.

His questions could wait. For now he focused on whatever threat had sent her running to him and Caleb. He needed to make her feel safe so that she would open up to him about whatever trouble she was in. Which meant patience on his part. Not one of his better traits to be sure. But he tamped down his impatience and desire to know everything right this minute and allowed her to settle and feel more at ease. If such a thing were possible.

“You’re the woman on the news,” he murmured. “The one everyone is talking about.”

She nodded and then closed her eyes as pain and sorrow flickered across her face.

“I was stupid,” she said hoarsely. “And now my parents are likely paying the price. I need your help, Mr. Devereaux. I’m so scared of what has happened to them. My father told me if I was ever in trouble, if I ever needed help and he wasn’t there, to come here. To you or your brother.”

Beau’s eyebrow lifted in question. “And who is your father?”

“Gavin Rochester. I’m Arial—Ari—his daughter. Do you know him?”

Beau frowned. The name rang a bell with him. It had been years, when his parents were still alive, but he was almost certain that Gavin Rochester had either been a friend or a business associate of his father’s. And given the fact that his parents had died under suspicious circumstances, it made him uneasy that someone who’d associated with them had sent his daughter to him and Caleb.

Caleb had shed any and all connections to their parents’ lives, associates, friends, everyone. They couldn’t be sure who to trust, if anyone at all, and so they’d simply withdrawn, gone off the grid and started over. Clean. Whereas when his parents were still alive, they reveled in their lifestyle and enjoyed all the perks of having wealth and power, Caleb had gone the opposite way entirely. He hadn’t wanted for his siblings the life their parents led. A life that had led to their demise.

“No, I don’t know him,” Beau said truthfully. “It’s possible he knew my father. But my parents died many years ago. So perhaps that is why he told you to come to one of us if you were ever in trouble.”

“I wish I could go back and undo it all,” she said, grief choking her so the words came out choppy and sporadic. “I made a mistake. I was never supposed to reveal myself as I did that day, but I reacted on instinct. I knew he was going to kill me. I could see it in his eyes. And while I am versed in self-defense—my father insisted—there was simply no way for a woman of my size to take on three men.”

“What exactly did you do?” Beau asked quietly.

She went silent, chewing on her bottom lip in consternation. He could tell she was waging one hell of an internal battle. Deciding how much she should tell him, if anything at all.

“Ari. Do you prefer Ari or Arial?”

“Ari,” she said in a husky voice. “Everyone calls me Ari.”

“All right, Ari. You came to me because on some level you knew that if your father trusted us then so could you. And if I’m going to help you I have to know everything. You can’t leave a single thing out because I have to know what I’m dealing with. If you’re worried about privacy, we have a very strict policy of client confidentiality. We don’t even keep hard copies and our computer system is impenetrable. We hire the very best and we take our business—and our clients—very seriously.”

“Does that mean you’re going to help me?” she asked anxiously. “If it’s payment you’re worried about, I assure you I have the money.”

Even as she spoke, she began digging out ten-thousand-dollar wraps and placing them on his desk in agitation.

“Just tell me how much. I can pay it. If the cash isn’t enough I can get more.”

Beau reached across the desk and captured one small hand, holding her still before she could go back to her purse again. He rubbed his thumb over her satiny soft skin in an effort to soothe her.

“We’ll discuss money later,” he said gently. “Right now I need information from you so we know what we’re up against and so we know where to start looking. You said your parents disappeared? Or that they’re in danger?”

Tears shimmered in those electric, almost neon eyes, making them even more vibrant. They practically glowed, making her eyes seem much larger against her delicate bone structure.

His gaze found her swollen eye again and he ground his teeth together because it pissed him off to imagine someone striking such a small woman hard enough to put that kind of bruise on her. She was lucky nothing was broken. But then how did he know there wasn’t? It wasn’t like she could just pop into the local ER to get X-rays.

He made a mental note to have a doctor come to see her once he got her settled somewhere safe.

She twisted her hands in agitation and then reached up, pushing her fingers into her temples as if to relieve pain and tension. It was all he could do not to take over the task himself and remain behind his desk as an impartial third party. Someone she wanted to hire.

“Why don’t you let me ask questions,” he prompted. “It may be easier for you to focus if you only have to answer instead of struggling with how to tell your story and decide whether you can trust me or not.”

Guilt flashed in her eyes, telling him that he’d hit the mark and that she was indeed battling with herself over whether to trust him. Then her lips firmed and she straightened, looking directly at him as if she’d come to a decision.

“My father trusted you,” she said softly. “So I do as well. He wouldn’t have ever told me to come to you if he hadn’t known with absolute certainty that you were a good man and that you would help me. You’re all I’ve got, Mr. Devereaux. And beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when it comes to my parents’ lives.”

“Please, call me Beau,” he said. “Mr. Devereaux makes me feel like an old fart and I hope to hell that’s not what I look like.”

Her face flushed pink and a tiny smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. He was astonished by the change in her eyes during that one moment she’d let her guard down. He was mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of shimmering colors contained in those small orbs.

“You certainly aren’t an old fart, so Beau it is,” she said lightly.

He could sense her relaxing just a bit, some of the awful tension starting to leave her body.

“Would you like some coffee or tea? Perhaps soda?”

She shook her head and glanced down at her watch. “I’ve wasted too much time as it is. It could already be too late for them.”

Pain and distress immediately flooded her eyes once more and desolation cast dark shadows over her features.

“When did they disappear?” Beau asked, deciding to take the bull by the horns and discontinue this delicate dance to try to make her feel at ease.

“Yesterday. Yesterday afternoon,” she said, blowing out a deep breath. “I know it sounds silly to be worried when they’ve been gone less than twenty-four hours, but you have to understand. After what happened, they would never have left me for that long. They had only gone out to do some quick shopping. For me. We were moving to one of my father’s undisclosed residences so I would be shielded from the media and any other nutcase out there who might possibly come after me.”

Beau’s eyebrow lifted at the “undisclosed residence” part, but then judging by the expensive clothing Ari wore and the several 10k wraps she’d dug out of her oversized purse, not to mention the obvious security measures her father took, her family must be wealthy. He made a mental note to dig up everything he could find on Gavin Rochester as soon as he could get word to Quinn. For now, he put it aside so he could focus on the rest, but at the first opportunity, without alerting her to the fact, he would have Quinn do some discreet, but thorough, checking

The name bothered him because he was certain there was a connection to his parents and he and his brothers were suspicious of anyone associated with his parents before their “untimely” deaths.

It was possible, given Caleb was the oldest, that he might even remember Gavin or perhaps might have even met him on occasion. Their parents had moved in wealthy circles, openly flaunting their wealth and making important—and wealthy—friends. Their father hadn’t been discreet in mixing business and personal matters and had often, as Caleb had told Beau, entertained business associates in their home, allowing them to meet and mingle with the Devereaux children, though Caleb had always shadowed their younger sister, Tori, cautious about the people their parents associated with.

It was a sad testament to the fact that even at a young age Caleb hadn’t trusted his own parents. Beau only had vague memories, not specifics, and Quinn and Tori had no memory of them at all.

“They didn’t call,” Ari continued. “They didn’t let me know why they were late and all my calls to them went straight to voice mail, which tells me their phones are either turned off or have no charge left. They literally disappeared and they would never do anything to cause me worry, nor would they leave me alone on a whim. So I know something has happened to them.”

“Tell me as much as you know,” Beau encouraged. “Don’t leave anything out, no matter how insignificant it might seem. We need all the information you can supply so we at least have a starting point.”

She went still, holding her breath, her nostrils quivering as she stared back at him. “Does that mean you’ll take the job?”

“I need to hear all the facts, but yes, DSS will help you.”

Her nostrils flared with sudden exhalation and her shoulders visibly sagged.

“Thank God,” she whispered. “I didn’t know what else to do, who else to turn to. The men my father hired can’t be trusted. I can’t afford to trust anyone. But my father obviously had faith in you and your brother so I have to go with his judgment.”

“Why do you say the men your father hired can’t be trusted?” he asked, though he had a very good idea now that the puzzle pieces were coming together. Those bruises didn’t get there by accident.

“My father only took two of his security detail with him and my mother. My father is very capable of defending himself and my mother, but he took two and left the rest of the detail with me at the house.

“When I realized that they weren’t coming back, I went outside, hoping to get their attention. I knew they were there, but I couldn’t see them. They weren’t inside with me.”

Beau frowned. Why the hell wouldn’t her father have made certain that the house was every bit as guarded on the inside as the outside?

“After I got no response when I called out for help, I dug through my purse for the keys to the vehicles my father owns. When I looked up, one of the men was there. He told me my parents were ‘fine’ and then before I could react, he hit me.”

Her hand went to her face though he doubted she was conscious of the act. Fury left a foul taste in his mouth at the idea of this young woman, so delicate, would be brutalized by a much larger man. A man who was supposed to protect her.

“When I looked up from where I was sprawled, he was coming toward me and I saw a syringe in his hand. I knew he intended to drug me. And that he obviously wanted me alive, otherwise he could have just killed me as soon as I walked out of the house.”

Beau nodded his agreement with her assessment but remained silent so she would continue, without distraction.

“I knew I could never physically fight him off. He was twice my size and he just screamed military. That look, you know? He was absolutely cold and methodical. I also knew that while he may have had orders to keep me alive, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t hurt me in the process.”

She trailed off for a moment and her lips formed a tight, white line. She’d grown pale and her respirations were much more shallow and rapid. She stared at him, her gaze penetrating as she studied him. As though she were at a crucial point in deciding whether to fully trust him or to censor some of the information so he wouldn’t know all of it.

But he waited, not offering argument, nor did he try to compel her to trust him. It was a decision she had to make on her own, one he wouldn’t bully her into making. If he was going to help her, he needed one hundred percent of her trust. Which meant telling him everything.

“You obviously saw the video,” she said, her voice trembling. “You’ve had to have seen the speculation and drawn your own conclusions about who and what I am.”

“I’d rather hear it directly from you,” he said calmly. “I don’t form an opinion without all the facts.”

She flashed him a grateful look and then once more squared her shoulders resolutely.

“I have special . . . powers,” she said hesitantly. “Telekinesis. I don’t know if it’s my only power because all my life my parents have tried to hide me—and my abilities—from the public eye. So I never used them. Not since I was a young child and didn’t know better. So it was blind instinct to use them when I was attacked. I wasn’t rational enough to simply try and escape without using my powers. And now everyone knows or suspects and God only knows what else they think or assume about me.”

Her gaze was wary as she studied him intently, waiting for his reaction. He refused to give her one, though it was what she expected.

“I know it sounds crazy,” she said in a low voice.

“You’d be surprised by what I don’t find crazy,” he said calmly.

She relaxed even more, some of the doubt and fear evaporating from her eyes.

“I called my father to tell him what happened and he told me to get in my car and he’d be there shortly. I’m almost certain he somehow manipulated the security camera footage so that it would be obvious that I was acting in self-defense but at the same time not showing how I defended myself. We never dreamed someone not only witnessed the incident but videoed it as well. And now it’s everywhere.”

She closed her eyes, her face suddenly showing signs of stress and fatigue.

“I don’t know what else to tell you that would be helpful. I wasn’t involved in my father’s business matters. All I know is that he and my mother left after saying they’d be gone no longer than two hours and that’s the last I’ve heard from them.”

“And your attacker told you they were fine.”

She nodded. “How do I know he was telling the truth?” Then she sighed again and rubbed absently at her forehead. “I should have just let him take me. Why bother sedating someone if you want them dead? He could have shot me on sight and gotten away with it. I should have just let him drug me so that maybe he’d take me to wherever my parents are or perhaps even free them since it’s obvious that it’s me they want.”

Beau’s face drew into a scowl before he could call it back. “That is not the answer. If they want you so badly then they’ll use your parents as bargaining chips because if they kill them, you’ll never cooperate with them. They’ll try to contact you. They’ll likely want to arrange for a trade. You for them.”

She nodded.

“’That’s never going to happen, Ari,” he said, his tone brooking no argument.

Her eyes widened in surprise. “What other choice do I have?”

“You chose to come to me. That was your choice. Because deep down where fear isn’t fueling your irrational thoughts, you know I’m right and that if you surrender yourself to them, you’ll be signing your parents’ death warrant.”

 

 

Chapter Nine

ARI stared at Beau Devereaux seated in the chair across the desk from her. He looked relaxed and at ease but there was something in his eyes. Something dark and formidable. He was an imposing, intimidating man. Tall and muscular with strong features and bone structure.

He wasn’t pretty by a long shot. There was nothing polished or refined about him, though she knew he and his brothers were wealthy. He had a rough edge to him that would always give people pause and, if they were smart, make them wary of ever crossing him.

She was hiring him, and she should be the one who held the power and yet he thoroughly intimidated her. He looked . . . hard. Like nothing ever unnerved him. And perhaps that was a good thing. She needed hard and ruthless if her parents were going to be found.

“Do you have somewhere safe to stay?” Beau queried as he studied her.

She tried to push the sudden panic down, but it nipped persistently at her nape and she knew she’d utterly failed to keep it from her expression. She’d never been adept at hiding her emotions. Her father had tried to teach her to be unreadable, but it was a futile effort. She just wasn’t wired that way. And she knew, judging by Beau’s expression, that she’d failed miserably in keeping the dismay from her eyes.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “My father’s security detail would most likely know the locations of all his residences. I don’t know about all of them. I’ll have to check into a hotel under an alias. My father provided ID and passports as well as cash in the safe-deposit box.”

Once again, Beau’s eyebrow lifted and she could only imagine what he was thinking. It did sound like her father was some sort of crime lord, because he shrouded himself in secrecy and security. She’d honestly never given it a thought. It was the way her father had been since she was old enough to remember, so she accepted it as normal, never considering how others would view his extreme security measures.

She assumed all he did was in protection of her. So that her powers would never be scrutinized by the public. And she’d failed him and her mother. Everything they’d done for the last twenty-four years had been washed away in a single moment of panic.

“I understand that your first concern is your parents and their safety,” Beau said gently. “But you are in danger as well. You can’t think only of them.”

“Tell me what I should do then,” she said, trying to keep the helplessness from her voice. She was an adult woman still emotionally dependent on her parents. She didn’t like the fact that she had no idea what to do, what action to take, now that her father wasn’t there guiding her with a gentle hand. It embarrassed and shamed her.

“For now, you come home with me,” Beau said. “Security is extremely tight, and I can be assured of your safety until we figure out our next step. Do you know who Ramie St. Claire is?”

Her brows knitted at the sudden change of subject.

“Yes, of course. Who doesn’t?”

Ramie St. Claire had been all over the news in the last year. She was a psychic who possessed extraordinary abilities to locate kidnap victims.

Ari’s breath caught in her throat. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of it sooner? If Ramie could track victims, perhaps she could find her parents.

But as soon as the thought hit her, she sagged, momentarily deflated. How could she possibly contact the young psychic when she’d completely disappeared from the public eye?

“She’s married to Caleb,” Beau continued. “I can’t promise you that she’ll help. Caleb is very protective of her and her gift comes at a very high price because she experiences everything the victim does. But if you have something—an object—that was a particular favorite of your mother or father, or something they used frequently, it’s possible she could locate them using that object.”

Ari’s heart leapt and her pulse stuttered, causing her breath to hitch uncomfortably.

“Cover your hair back up as you had it before and put your sunglasses back on. I’ll summon our driver to meet us in front. Usually I drive myself, but I’m not parked close and I don’t want you exposed or alone in the time it takes me to go get it and pick you up.”

Ari blinked, wondering how they’d gotten from her wanting to hire him to her going home with him and him taking over completely. But even as she found herself questioning him, she obeyed without hesitation, redoing her disguise.

When she was finished, Beau picked up the phone and dialed a number. She listened while he tersely informed the driver to pick them up directly in front of the entrance to the building. When he finished the call to his driver, he inquired as to how she’d gotten here, and when she explained about the BMW parked curbside not far from the entrance to the building, he shook his head, frowning, then placed yet another call and instructed someone to pick it up and deliver it to Beau’s home.

While she’d certainly hoped he’d agree to help her, she hadn’t quite expected this kind of reaction. It felt as though her entire world had been upended and she wasn’t in control of any aspect.

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But then when had she truly ever been in absolute control of her life?

As Beau rose from his chair, she did the same, suddenly nervous and unsure of herself. But, as she’d already acknowledged, she had no other choice. She knew she couldn’t trust any of her father’s men, even if they weren’t all traitors. The safest course was to assume they were all after her for whatever reason.

Which left the men—man—her father had always told her to seek out. If her father had placed his trust and her well-being into Beau Devereaux’s hands, then surely she could do the same. She’d never questioned her father’s judgment before and she wasn’t about to start now.

With a deep breath, she allowed Beau to herd her out of his office and into the lobby area where their receptionist was stationed.

“Let Quinn know he’s covering the office today, and let him know I’ll check in with him later to give him the rundown.”

Anita nodded. “Yes, sir. I’ll call him now.”

Ari gasped in shock when Beau actually growled at his receptionist and sent her a scowl. Before she could think better of herself, she elbowed Beau in the ribs, frowning at him in reprimand.

“Did you just growl at her?” Ari whispered in astonishment.

To her additional surprise, instead of looking chastened, Anita burst into laughter and smiled at Ari.

“Don’t mind him. He hates that I call him sir and Mr. Devereaux. He’s convinced it makes him sound like an old fart and he doesn’t take it well that a woman older than him addresses him as sir. He insists that he call me ma’am, but I’m not to reciprocate and give him that same respect.”

Her eyes twinkled merrily as Beau’s scowl grew darker.

“He has good southern gentlemen manners, for sure,” Anita continued. “They don’t make them like they used to and Beau is definitely a throwback. But I call him sir and Mr. Devereaux just to needle him. Especially when he gets too serious. Which is pretty much all the time,” she said blithely, unruffled by Beau’s reaction.

A smile hovered on Ari’s lips despite the fact that her situation was dire and she was frantic over the disappearance of her parents.

“So you’re saying I should drive him crazy by calling him sir or Mr. Devereaux?” Ari asked in an innocent voice.

“Yep,” Anita said, still grinning unrepentantly.

Beau’s fingers curled firmly around Ari’s wrist and he all but dragged her from the suite of offices to the elevator.

“My father always said I wasn’t serious enough,” Ari said lightly as they descended. “That my heart was too soft and I was too gullible and naïve for my own good. It appears you go too far in the opposite direction so perhaps we’ll balance one another out.”

He shot her a look, his eyebrows rising, and she immediately blushed, heat burning her cheeks as she realized how what she’d said sounded.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said hastily, nearly groaning over sticking her foot in her mouth. Yet another thing her father said she did frequently.

“Like what?” Beau asked in a mild tone.

She was sure she turned even redder. “Like we have some sort of a relationship. You know, yin and yang, that sort of thing. It was a stupid thing for me to say. But my mouth often gets ahead of my brain.”

“So which one of us is Yin and which is Yang?”

It took her a moment to realize he was joking. He was teasing her.

She laughed, shaking her head. “And your receptionist accuses you of being too serious. Maybe she’s never experienced your sense of humor?”

“I don’t have a sense of humor,” he muttered. “Ask anyone. They’ll tell you I’m the grumpy bastard of the Devereaux clan.”

“Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to wait and create an informed opinion. Where are we going?”

The abrupt change in subject had Beau looking at her in confusion.

She sighed. “I do that too, unfortunately. You’ll experience it soon enough. But I tend to blurt out whatever happens to cross my mind at the time. My parents are adept at following my train of thought but others? Not so much.”

He smiled, the action completely transforming his grim features. He suddenly looked . . . approachable. Not at all the intimidating figure he’d been in his office.

The elevator doors slid open and they exited to pass the security desk where Ari returned her badge.

Beau’s eyebrows lifted when his gaze skimmed over the pass.

“You weren’t exaggerating when you said you had multiple aliases.”

Ari shot him a serious look so he’d know she wasn’t in the least exaggerating. “Yes, I have three sets of identification. Driver’s license and passports for all three names. My father always told me that if I had need of them it was best to switch them around so that no one ever caught on to one and was able to track me. It sounded paranoid at the time and I just put it down to my father’s overprotectiveness because that certainly wasn’t anything new to me or my mother. But I honestly never thought I’d actually need them. Obviously I was wrong and should have paid more attention to the measures my father went to in order to secure my safety. It’s almost as if he knew that I’d need them one day. I just don’t know why.”

Her voice trailed off as Beau pulled her into the rotating door. She hastily felt for her scarf and glasses, ensuring they were covering what they should. She was glad for the sunglasses, because the sun was particularly bright today and she would have been momentarily blinded by the sudden wash of light.

She saw the car parked directly in front of the building, blocking one lane of traffic, and knew it had to be Beau’s vehicle. But when they started forward, someone bumped into Beau, knocking him slightly off balance for a moment.

At the same time, the glass shattered behind them and screams went up. Ari found herself shoved painfully to the cracked pavement, Beau’s body covering hers completely.

She heard his violent curse and felt him fumbling for something. She turned her head, trying to see what had happened, and terror clenched her insides when she saw Beau had pulled a gun she hadn’t even realized he carried.

“Stay down,” he said harshly. “Do not make a single move until I tell you.”

She nodded, not trusting her voice to even work. Her throat was paralyzed and fear was fast closing off her airway.

At this point there wasn’t much more damage Ari could do that hadn’t already been done by the video of her using her powers and so she focused on two metal waste bins that lined the sidewalk further down.

They hovered in the air and then streaked toward her and Beau before coming to rest in front of them, giving them some cover at least. When Beau realized what she’d done, he cursed again.

But if he thought to reprimand her, he didn’t take the time. She was suddenly hauled to her feet and shoved between Beau and what she assumed was his driver and they dove toward the car.

Ari landed in the backseat and cracked her head on the opposite door handle. Her already bruised body was taking yet another beating. She could feel every single one of those bruises and sore ribs screaming their protests.

“Go, go, go!” Beau barked. “Get us the hell out of here.”

The car took off, tires squealing as it shot into traffic. She scrambled up so she could look out the back, trying to make sense of what had just happened. The street was empty of pedestrians. They’d all taken cover the moment a shot was fired.

Beau yanked her down roughly so her head was below the windows.

“Stay down, damn it! Are you just trying to get yourself killed?”

Her eyes were wide as she stared over at him to where he too was crouched low in the seat.

“What happened, Beau?”

“Sniper,” he clipped out.

Dismay and confusion swirled in Ari’s chaotic mind. It was simply too much to take it all in. Too much had happened in a very short span of time, turning her world completely upside down. Her life as she knew it had undergone a drastic change.

“I don’t understand,” she said, trying to shake the cobwebs from her brain. “It seemed so important that they not kill me. They tried to drug me when, if he’d wanted, he could have killed me on the spot. So why would they try to kill me now?”

“They weren’t shooting at you,” Beau said, his expression grim.

She shot him a puzzled look, her confusion growing by the minute.

“They were shooting at me.”

End of Excerpt

In His Keeping

is Book 2 in the Slow Burn Series

The full series reading order is as follows: