Hunted:A Stepbrother Romance Novel(7)

By: Olivia Long


I took a tentative sniff at the air and swore to myself that there was no hint of raw and acrid tobacco smoke. It had just been a dream. The worst type of dream a man could have—a dream from combat. There were no nightmares more visceral, no nightmares more tactile. It was almost indistinguishable from waking life ... and that had to be it. It was just the scent on the air of my dream, so real that it had lingered in my nostrils, so real that it had followed me into this world, haunting—but not real. Not real.

Keenan O’Connor was not here.

I swallowed, my throat parched, and blinked hard.

Of course ... that day ... that day on his property ... we hadn’t been able to find any trace of him after the smoke literally cleared. His entire guard staff had been slaughtered in the shootout, and his partner, Marco, was sprawled at my feet, felled by the ammunition from my own rifle. But Keenan—Keenan was gone. Nowhere to be seen. Disappeared into the bush.

Several of my own men died that day, and I found myself immediately filed away under “General Discharge” by my commander. It wasn’t quite as bad as a dishonorable discharge—but it wasn’t an honorable discharge, either. It was the way of the court telling me that they understood what I had done, leading my men into that situation, acquiescing to the pleas of the officers who had been put into a stranglehold by Keenan O’Connor and Marco Ramirez—but it had been against their policy and distinctly against orders nonetheless, and they couldn’t condone such behavior and allow me to stay.

A couple months later, here I was.

Back in my dad’s pool house like nothing had ever happened.

Like that day hadn’t turned my life upside down and—changed me.

I took another sniff at the air.

Tobacco. Acrid, raw tobacco. I was sure of it. And the dream—the dream had been over for a minute now.

I stood shakily from the tile and glanced around the dark pool house.

I was so sure I smelled it.

Could it just be post-traumatic stress disorder?

Or ... did I really smell the distinct odor of Keenan O’Connor’s cigarette brand?

I marched to the window facing out onto the pool and scanned the yard and house beyond.

I felt ... watched.

I couldn’t shake it, even though it had to be my imagination. There was no way that Keenan had found me here. There was no way that a South American drug lord—“consultant”—would have been so burnt by my fumbled foray into his territory that he’d actually follow the disgraced corporal back to his American homestead and—threaten his loved ones?

I glared over the house. I could see that a few lights were still on. Dad and Irene had gone out for a private dinner to celebrate their fifth anniversary, Dad’s idea—he enjoyed the party Chloe had thrown for them (and for which I had taken partial credit), but also complained that it had been a little noisy for his tastes, and Irene was too distracted by the guests to focus on the important thing: him. They had gone out hours ago, leaving Chloe inside, alone, and the living room light burned on, letting me know that she was probably on the couch, watching some TV.

And everything was fine.

I swallowed again and promised myself: everything was fine.

Everyone was safe.

The smell of the smoke and this nagging sensation of being watched—invaded—were all just part of the dream.

Just a dream. Just a dream.





Chapter 4





Chloe





It was after midnight, and I finally felt safe lounging in the living room, certain that Chase wouldn’t bother coming into the house at such an hour unless there was an emergency. He had a bathroom and a private fridge and a bed and a closet and, as far as I was concerned, he never needed to come to the main house for anything.

Then the door burst open, and in staggered Mom and Harry, drunk as a couple of college kids, home from the club. So ridiculous. Harry was oozing all over Mom, and she was lavishing in the attention, and neither of them noticed my icy stare from the couch.

“Oh!” Mom yelped, eyes connecting with mine at long last. “Honey! We didn’t know you were still up.”

“Well, it’s a Friday, and I’m twenty-one, so, yeah,” I muttered pointedly. “I’m up.”

“Well—fantastic,” Mom said. I frowned in her direction. There was something different about her, something youthful, and I found it highly suspicious. Mom and Harry were not young, and they had no business acting otherwise. “We have some great news, honey, and you were the first person I wanted to tell.”

I don’t know why, but I—I knew what she was going to say. It was like that horror movie moment when you just know that the worst possible thing has happened.