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Buck
Author: Helen Hardt

 

WARNING

 

 

The Gems of Wolfe Island series contains adult language and scenes, including flashbacks of physical and sexual abuse. Please take note.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

ASPEN

 

 

Katelyn sits, quiet, stroking Jed’s soft head. Luke left an hour ago to fetch Edgar.

I can hardly look at my friend. My request put her fiancé in danger.

Another hour passes.

Then another.

Katelyn will never speak to me again if Luke doesn’t come back.

Neither of us can sleep, neither of us can eat.

It’s after midnight now, and—

The back door opens, and a barking Edgar runs toward me. He and Jed check each other out.

I heave a sigh of relief, as Katelyn launches herself into Luke’s arms.

“What took you so long? I’ve been so worried.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t want to worry you, but I took advantage of the time I had to case the place.”

“No one saw you today?”

“No, I was very careful. I parked two blocks away and sneaked in the back. It was dark, and I made sure no one was around.”

“Thank God,” Katelyn nuzzles her head in Luke’s shoulder.

I want to ask him what he found. I want to ask who might have done this to Buck.

But I stay quiet, let him and Katelyn have their time right now.

I take Edgar into the kitchen to get him some water. I find Jed’s kibble and give Edgar a small portion. “Tomorrow I’ll go to the store and get you some treats, okay?”

He ignores me as he guzzles down the food.

Luke comes in the kitchen to find me. “We need to talk, Aspen.”

My stomach drops.

“No. Is it Buck? He’s okay. Please tell me he’s okay.”

“Yes, Buck is okay. I got an update from my contact. He’s sleeping soundly and his vitals are strong.”

“Thank God.” A sigh of relief whooshes out of me like a gust of wind.

“No, we need to talk about what I found at Gloria’s house.”

I nod. I’m exhausted, but I won’t be able to sleep anyway. “Tell me.”

He takes me to the family room, and I sit down on the couch. Katelyn sits next to me, and Luke sits on her other side, turning to face both of us.

“When I got to the house, the bodies—”

I wince.

“I mean Gloria and her husband… They weren’t there.”

I drop my jaw.

“Sometime between the time I got Buck out of there and took him to the hospital and when I went back to pick up Edgar, someone moved the bodies.”

“What does that mean?” Katelyn asks.

“It means someone took away the evidence. The place was clean. There was absolutely no evidence of blood anywhere.”

“But there was so much blood on the bed, and some of it had seeped onto the carpet.”

“Cleaners,” Luke says. “Professional cleaners. They can get blood out of anything. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone died in that room or anywhere in the house.”

“That’s why you were gone so long,” Katelyn said.

“Yes. I told you I wanted to case the place. Cleaners had been there, so I had to look even more thoroughly. See if I could find anything they might’ve missed.”

“But you didn’t find anything,” I say.

“No, I didn’t.”

“But Edgar was still there.”

“He was outside. Whoever had been there put him outside.”

“But he was inside when you left with Buck, right?” I ask.

“Yes. He was. And I left him inside with a full bowl of water and a full bowl of food.”

Luke goes up a notch in my mind then. He didn’t rescue Edgar while he was there, but he did make sure he wouldn’t starve for the next few days.

“What does it all mean?” Katelyn asks.

“It means were dealing with professionals. Someone with a lot of money and a lot of clout had Gloria and Brian taken care of.”

“Who?” I ask. “Who would’ve done this?”

“I don’t know. But I will find out. For you and for Buck. I owe him.”

Katelyn is rigid next to me, and I know exactly what she’s thinking.

She loves me, and she cares about Buck because I care about him. She cares about Buck because he helped her when they were both being held by the drug lord.

But her first loyalty is to her fiancé, to Luke.

She doesn’t want him in danger.

And now…he’s going to be in danger.

Because of me.

I don’t know what to say. I could tell Luke to stay out of it. That once Buck is released from the hospital, we’ll go back to Manhattan and forget all about this.

But I can’t.

Someone tried to harm Buck. Someone killed Gloria and her husband.

And it’s all because of me.

This is my fault.

I need Luke’s help. I need Luke’s help to put a stop to all of it.

“Katelyn…” I begin.

She turns to me, swallows back a sob. “No, Aspen. Don’t go there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What happened to you and what happened to me. None of it is our fault.”

“I understand that. But I’ll let this go. I’ll let it go for you. For Luke. Buck and I can go back to Manhattan. I don’t need to know who was behind this. All I really need is to get on with my life.”

Katelyn gazes at me. She wants to take me up on my offer. I can tell, but she won’t.

She won’t because she meets her fiancé’s gaze.

And his blue eyes—they tell a different story.

He will not let this go. His reasons are somewhat of a mystery to me, but they strengthen my resolve.

I harden. I harden into a freaking statue.

Buck could have been killed. Gloria and Brian were killed.

Whoever sealed my fate those years ago is still out there. I will track them down. Not only for me, but for the man I love.

Yes, the man I love.

The confession inside my mind doesn’t surprise me.

It’s there.

As if it’s always been there and it always will be.

I love Buck Moreno.

So I’m in. I’m all in. I gather every ounce of courage, mettle, and strength I possess, and let the fierce determination surge through me like fire.

Hello, old friend.

Garnet is all in too.

 

 

1

 

 

BUCK

 

 

My head feels like someone is demolishing a building inside it, and my mind is pretty much pulp, but one thing is for certain. Waking up in a hospital bed is a hell of a lot better than waking up in the deserts of Afghanistan with an infected wound and a tired and aching body.

Hell, in Afghanistan, waking up at all was a boon.

Finding out where the hell I am? That would be a bigger boon. At this moment though? I’m happy just to have a comfortable bed.

My thoughts are incoherent.

I just want to know where Aspen is.

Nothing else matters.

Everything else is fuzzy, but I remember her. I know that I love her. And that I never told her.

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