His Lover to Protect - Katee Robert

Chapter One

The woman in front of him ducked into an alley, and it was everything Luke Jackson could do not to curse. If he didn’t have this blasted bum leg, he’d have had no problem keeping up with her—or remaining undetected. Another glance at the photo his ex–squad mate Flannery sent him three days ago, and he gritted his teeth and picked up his pace. Every stride sent a dull pain from his knee. It had been replaced almost two years ago after being shot out on what was supposed to be a routine search-and-rescue. The doc said he’d made a startling recovery. She’d called him a miracle. He sure as hell didn’t feel like a miracle when they were serving him his walking papers.

But there was no use thinking about what he lost.

He was here to keep Ryan Flannery’s idiot childhood friend safe. She was the reason he’d been camping out in Cork and ghosting around Blarney Castle for the last forty-eight hours. Her sister was sure that she’d go here first, so this was where he’d shown up to pick up the trail.

What kind of woman just up and left her life behind to backpack through Europe alone?

Obviously not a smart one.

It was because of her impulsive decision to take off with only a text message as good-bye that he’d been sitting in the rain for so goddamn long, he was in danger of never getting warm again. It was worse in a way, because it’d just been a fine mist all day, rather than a torrential downpour that would make it easier to justify staying indoors. If he and Flannery hadn’t been in the PJs together and fought their way through hell and back more times than he could count, he wouldn’t be in this goddamn country, camped out because he couldn’t guarantee that this woman wouldn’t make an appearance.

Sure enough, she’d waltzed up around lunchtime, and now here they were.

He reached the alley entrance. With his luck, the woman was going to get jumped before he could catch her. He hadn’t expected her to hike back to Cork from Blarney Castle, and he hadn’t been able to risk a cab for fear that she’d get into trouble while he wasn’t watching her.

He never should have agreed to this favor.

Luke turned the corner—and got kicked in the face.

He hit the wall hard enough to bruise, and barely got his hands up in time to deflect the next blow. He managed to block her next few punches, his body going through the motions like it had a thousand times before. He glimpsed a flash of hazel eyes and a determined expression, and then Alexis Yeung zeroed in on his damaged knee. Pain exploded behind his eyelids, but even that wouldn’t have normally slowed him down. No, it was the damn knee giving out and sending him tumbling to the ground that did him in.

Luke rolled onto his back just in time to catch sight of a can that looked suspiciously like pepper spray. Fuck that. “What the hell?” He lurched up and grabbed her wrist, shoving her arm wide so the spray hit the ground next to him instead of his face.

“Why are you following me?” She tried to jerk away, but he wasn’t letting her go anywhere until he had control of the canister.

He squeezed the pressure point in her wrist and snatched the can as it fell from her hand. It was only then that he registered her question. “What?”

“Why are you following me?” She scrambled back a few steps, but her voice was low and calm despite the circumstances. “You know what? Don’t bother answering that. I’m calling the police.”

Shit. That was the last thing he needed. As he climbed to his feet, Luke searched for something to say that would make her pause enough to listen to reason. He couldn’t tell her the truth—Flannery had been pretty damn clear on that. If she knew her friends and sister back home didn’t trust her, Alexis would never forgive any of them. Which sounded pretty damn juvenile, but it was the least of his concerns right now. If she called the Garda, he would have no choice but to come clean. “What are you talking about?”

“You’ve been following me ever since I left the castle. I might be a tourist, but I’m not stupid.”

If he didn’t have a bum knee, she never would have known he was there. The failure burned his throat almost worse than the