Protector (Doms of Mountain Bend #1) - B.J. Wane


“This is going to put a kink in our plans.” Shawn eased the bedroom door closed and turned to his two friends. “Now what?” he whispered, wincing as he raised his right hand to brush his hair out of his eyes, forgetting about his sprained wrist for a minute.

“I don’t see how this changes anything.”

Clayton paced the worn carpet in the bedroom the three of them had shared since arriving at the Atkins’ foster home, his black eye almost swollen shut. It wasn’t the first time Clayton’s penchant for arguing had ignited Doyle Atkins’ short fuse. Then again, they’d learned the first week it didn’t take much to set off their foster parent. Doyle had already revealed his angry, abusive nature to Shawn with a fist to his gut by the time Clayton and Dakota were relocated to the Atkins house a month after him. At fifteen, all three of them were deemed too incorrigible and too old for adoption, and were expected to hang out here for another two years before the state would consider turning them loose on society.

They all agreed on one thing – fuck that, they were out of here now.

“What about her?” Shawn nodded toward the door and the low murmur of voices they could still hear coming from the living room.

Dakota drilled him with a black-eyed glare. “What do you suggest, McDuff, that we drag a kid around the streets with us when we don’t even know where we’re going yet?”

Shawn dropped onto his bed with a muttered, frustrated curse. “Of course not, you imbecile.”

“Mrs. Atkins will return in a few days. She’ll be fine until then.”

Shawn noticed Clayton’s assertion didn’t match the concern in his blue eyes, not that it mattered. They were both determined to stick with the plan to sneak out of here tonight. Their meager belongings were stuffed in their backpacks, and each of them had agreed to their designated role. Dakota, with his height advantage and larger frame, could hold his own against Doyle better than either Shawn or Clayton, so he would stand guard after the old man succumbed to his nightly drunken stupor. Clayton would head to the kitchen to fill plastic bags with food, and he would grab Doyle’s cash stash from his office, everyone meeting behind the house within five minutes.

“You don’t know that,” Shawn shot back. The last thing they’d expected this evening was the arrival of a new foster kid from social services. He’d only gotten a glimpse of the blonde-haired little girl who couldn’t be more than seven or eight, but his stomach had clenched at the gleam in Doyle’s eyes as Shawn had walked by the ajar door to the living room. “I say we wait a few days, just until Mrs. Atkins returns.”

Dakota snorted with derision, his look scathing as he retorted, “Why? She never intervened between her husband and us.”

“She wanted girls, not teenage boys. I say…”

Clayton held up a hand. “We vote on it, like always. I say we keep to our original plan and go tonight. Dakota?”

“I’m with you. Tonight.”

Shawn blew out a frustrated breath then sighed, having no choice but to go along. “Fine,” he agreed, wishing there was another option. But in the three years since his father had been killed in the line of duty, he’d learned wishing never amounted to a hill of beans.

Five hours later, the three of them ventured out of their room into the now darkened house. They hadn’t expected Atkins to check on them, not even to see if they’d eaten anything for dinner or to introduce them to the new kid. The little girl’s soft voice as she’d talked to herself filtered through the thin walls from her room for a time following the social worker’s departure, but all had been silent for the last thirty minutes.

“Meet you in five out back,” Dakota whispered before pivoting and disappearing around the corner of the hall.

“It’s spooky, how fucking quiet he is when he moves.” Clayton shook his head. “Quit pouting, McDuff. This is a new start for us if we can get out of here undetected.”

“I’m not pouting. Go. Don’t forget my sunflower seeds.”

“As if. Good luck, man.”

Clayton headed in the same direction as Dakota while Shawn crept down the hall toward the last room on the right. A muffled sound from the little girl’s room made him pause then he kept going when he heard nothing else. As he slipped into Atkins’ office and pried open the locked desk