Dealing Him In

Play with fire, and you’ll get burned.

Santos “Saint” Cavallero had his life all figured out when he married his high school sweetheart, joined the Navy, and became a SEAL. After years of being deployed, Saint comes home for good, only to discover his wife has fallen for another man. Now divorced and a bodyguard for Four Kings Security, Saint loves his job and his found family. His dating life? A hot mess, until the spark of an unexpected attraction strikes him like lightning, leaving Saint confused. Why is he feeling hot and bothered over the ruggedly handsome Fire Chief?

After twenty years of service, Valentino “Val” Serrano is passing his fire ax on to the next Fire Chief. His retirement starts off with a bang, literally. Val is saved by the young, hot bodyguard he’s been dreaming of for longer than he cares to admit, but Saint is straight, isn’t he?

Val and Saint get roped into working on Val’s tavern, but Val is determined not to let Saint get under his skin. He’s been here before, and he’s not about to risk his heart, no matter how hot and flirty Saint is. When a killer sets his sights on Val and puts everyone he cares about in harm’s way, there’s suddenly more at risk than their hearts. If Val and Saint don’t stop the killer, their whole world could burn to the ground, and the possibility of a future together will go up in smoke.

Signed Paperback

It was one hell of a party.

Instrumental versions of popular songs filled the air as elegantly dressed guests conversed and laughed, a glass of champagne, cocktail, or spirit in hand. The weather was ideal, thanks to the lack of stifling humidity, and a cool, salty breeze came in from the ocean, sweeping through palm fronds and monstera leaves.

Tables with white tea lights and colorful floral centerpieces had been set up on one side of the pool to give guests plenty of room to gather as they waited for the guest of honor. The outdoor space was expansive, with three decorative stone columns on each side, the wooden beams they held up decorated with strings of tiny white lights and twisting ivy, simple yet classy. The venue was packed, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

So why did Saint feel unsettled?

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it bugged him. Then again, he wasn’t a fan of open venues, especially ones that overlooked a public beach. They were a nightmare to secure. Their people had made a risk assessment beforehand, and multiple sweeps were done inside and out before any guests arrived.

Typically, Saint didn’t work this type of event. He was mainly EP—executive protection—but his boss had personally asked him to work tonight, so here he was. Saint wasn’t as concerned by the number of guests as he was about which guests were in attendance tonight.

The luxury hotel’s outdoor event space, “The Veranda,” was filled to the brim with state and county officials, their families, and high-profile associates, including the Kings and Wild Cards—owners of Four Kings Security—and their men, two of whom were extremely wealthy businessmen and philanthropists—oh, and one service dog.

Next to Gio, Cookie sat dutifully and cheerfully, sporting his red service vest and a snazzy bow tie around his neck. It made Saint smile every time he saw the Golden Retriever. Usually, wherever Gio’s boyfriend Joker went, Joker’s best boy Chip was with him, but since Joker and the other guys were here, Chip was with King’s sister Bibi. A toddler, a baby, and a sassy Belgian Malinois under the same roof. Saint did not envy her one bit.

Four Kings Security had been hired for tonight’s celebration, but the Kings and their silent partners were here due to their long-standing relationship with the guest of honor, the about-to-be retired fire chief, Valentino Serrano. After twenty years of service, Val was passing his fire ax on to the next fire chief.

Saint wasn’t surprised by the turnout. Val had created one hell of a reputation for himself. People respected him even if they didn’t like him, and many people didn’t like him. For one, he was an openly gay man in a high-profile position. Saint had learned from a friend how the city had tried to get rid of Val years ago when he first came out.

Instead of going quietly into the night, Val had gone to war. He took them to court, and his lawyers wiped the floor with them. Val had impressive connections and wasn’t afraid to call on them. One of those connections was here tonight.

Frank Ramirez was Val’s best friend, a former firefighter who’d been part of the same firehouse as Val for years before an injury ended his career. To say that Frank was doing pretty well for himself these days would be an understatement. The guy owned Sapphire Sands, one of the most exclusive members-only gay nightclubs in the state.

Being gay and the company he kept weren’t the only reasons Val rubbed people the wrong way. Apparently, Val had never been one to play the politics game. He made decisions based on what he thought was best for his people and the citizens they served. Not that Saint was interested in Val or kept up to date on the guy.

They traveled in the same circles and knew many of the same people, so it made sense that Saint would have heard things. Val was best friends with Frank, whose boyfriend Joshua was Colton’s executive assistant, and Colton was married to Ace, who worked in executive protection with Saint. Ace was also the biggest gossip at the company, next to his cousin Lucky. Between the two of them, they knew everything about everyone.

“Do you think he’s a boxers or briefs guy?”

Saint didn’t move from his position near the huge terracotta pot housing some tropical fan palm, something else that made security at the venue a pain in the ass.

A whole host of greenery and shrubbery surrounded The Veranda. Everything from palm trees and bushes to flowers in giant pots were placed around the expansive space. Then there were the trees and hedges surrounding the venue, providing ample shadows for someone to hide in, particularly at night.

Ryden hummed, and Saint side-eyed his friend. Here we go.

“What are you talking about?” What was Ryden even doing here? He worked risk assessment with Red, so his job had ended long before tonight.

“The sexy fire chief,” Ryden replied, wriggling his eyebrows. “Or rather, the sexy, newly retired fire chief. I bet he’s a boxer briefs kind of guy.” Ryden shimmied his shoulders a little, and Saint did his best not to laugh.

Over the last few years, Saint’s friendship with Ryden had grown unexpectedly.  They’d become close, spending a lot of time together on and off the job. The guy was a Marine, but Saint didn’t hold it against him.

It had been rough for Ryden when he’d first joined Four Kings Security, but working for a company made up primarily of former military personnel, Ryden had plenty of support. Once he stopped being so damned stubborn about accepting help, he started to settle in.

“You’re an ass,” Saint grumbled. “I don’t know. And I don’t care.” He didn’t. Why would he? Casting another glance at Ryden, Saint groaned. Why was his friend so annoying? “What? And what are you doing here?”

“King wanted a little extra support tonight. Mostly I’m here to back up your ass. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Because it’s a ridiculous question,” Saint grumbled. “I don’t—”

The crowd broke off into cheers, whistles, and catcalls as everyone turned toward the doorway leading inside the hotel out onto The Veranda. Val appeared, wearing his black dress uniform with his white bell cap under his arm.

Something inexplicable slammed into Saint, stealing his breath away. A shiver went through him, and he swallowed hard. What the hell just happened?


What was it about Val that made him feel so off-kilter? Saint had found men handsome before. Not a big deal. He was secure enough in his masculinity to admit when a guy was good-looking, and sure, on occasion, he might have admired a little longer than necessary and…wondered, but he’d never felt…this. He’d never closed his eyes and imagined what another man might smell like, taste like…feel like.

Until Val.

The frustrating part was that Saint didn’t know what this was. Never had he been fixated by another man’s square jaw or stubble, yet Saint could not take his eyes off the ruggedly handsome fire chief.

Val was a big guy, tall, broad-shouldered, and solid. A patch of silver ran through the right side of his thick dark hair, and his eyes were a beautiful silver, but his smile did the most damage to Saint.

Ryden slowly leaned into Saint until he was pressed against his shoulder. “Yeah,” he drawled, “You don’t care at all.”

Saint’s face heated, and he cleared his throat. “Don’t you have a job to do?”

“I’m going with boxer briefs. Bet they fit nice and snug around that firm, round ass. I mean, look at it. It’s just there, in your face. All perky. Must be from sliding down all those poles.”

Saint gritted his teeth. “If you don’t go somewhere else, I will shove you into this planter.” A wicked grin came onto his face. “Better yet, I’ll tell Jay you were the one who put that rubber mouse in his desk drawer.”

Like Jay didn’t know exactly who the culprit was. The only one Ryden was fooling with his “loathing” of Jay was himself, and he was playing a very dangerous game. No one messed with King’s executive assistant.

Ryden snorted. “The only thing scary about Jay is his bow tie collection.”

“And King,” Saint replied, smiling at how Ryden’s eyes went huge.

Jay might not be scary, but he was looked after by King, who very much was. It also didn’t help that Ryden had accepted a bet made by Joker and walked into King’s office to call him “daddy.” Worse than taking the bet in the first place was the fact that King had been on the phone with a client at the time. King had sent them all to the mats shortly after and kicked their asses.

Val moved through the crowd, and all thoughts of Ryden vanished. Saint did his best to avoid following Val’s movement as he stopped to greet guests, offering thanks as he shook hands or bowed his head. Saint’s efforts were for shit because, as if sensing he was being watched, Val lifted his gaze, and their eyes met. Everything around him seemed to fade away, and Saint couldn’t stop the sharp inhale of breath. He could have sworn Val’s smile got a little brighter.

A “pop” startled Saint, and he cursed under his breath. Thankfully, it had just been a champagne bottle being uncorked. Shaking himself out of it, he turned to face forward and caught Val’s eye again. And the knowing smile.

“I’m going to make my rounds,” Saint grumbled, ignoring Ryden’s amused laugh. Thank goodness it was still early enough in the year that being booted and suited didn’t have him feeling like he was about to combust. For these events especially, security needed to blend in with the crowd. As far as the guests were concerned, Saint and his team weren’t even there.

A group of guests to his left burst into laughter. Ace stood among the group, his husband, Colton, at his side, joining in the laughter as Ace regaled them with one of his stories in his usual animated fashion. Never a dull moment around that guy.

Scanning the crowd, Saint spotted his boss, King, with his boyfriend, Leo, over by the long table offering an assortment of fancy appetizers. Never in a million years would Saint have guessed an intimidating, grumpy former Green Beret like King would fall for a cute computer nerd with fastidious snack tastes.

Leo shoved his glasses up his nose and frowned at the tiny plates. Something told Saint that prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat cheese did not make the list of Leo’s approved snacks. King reached into his tuxedo jacket pocket and pulled out what looked to be a packet of something. With a huge smile, Leo threw his arms around King and hugged him tight, making the bigger man chuckle. Saint had to admit, the two were very sweet together.   

Saint turned and bumped into someone. Shit. “I’m so sorry.” He threw a hand out to steady the man he’d accidentally stepped into and froze. “Val. I mean, fire chief. Shit, no, former fire chief.” Holy hell.

Val chuckled, little laugh lines forming at the corners of his eyes. “I said you could call me Val, remember?”

“Um.” Saint’s eyes dropped to Val’s mouth. Oh my God, why are you looking at his mouth? Moving his eyes up, he swallowed hard at how Val’s pupils seemed to dilate. Only then did Saint realize Val’s hand was on his bicep. He squeezed Saint’s arm and opened his mouth to say something when someone slapped Val on the back.

“Congrats, Serrano!”

“Thank you.” Val dropped his hand, and Saint took advantage of the distraction, quickly slipping around Val. He smoothed down his suit jacket and let out an unsteady breath. It wasn’t his first encounter with Val, but every time he ended up in front of the guy, Saint couldn’t stop himself from short-circuiting. What the hell was wrong with him?   

Shaking himself out of it, Saint focused on his job. He probably just needed to get laid. It had been a while. After his divorce, he’d taken his time getting back into the dating scene, but once he had, he came to the conclusion that it sucked, and not in a good way. The women seemed genuinely interested, and a few encounters had been promising, but other than some okay sex, there wasn’t anyone he’d connected with. There was no spark, no…heat. His gaze instinctively went to a certain tall, broad-shouldered man who knew a thing or two about heat. And he was thinking about Val again.

Something moved in his peripheral vision, and Saint stilled. He peered into the darkness, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as he inched closer. No one seemed to be on high alert. It could just be a bird or something. Then again….

Not seeing something didn’t negate its presence. As a former SEAL, he was all too familiar with hidden dangers. Steadying his breath, he slowly moved closer to the farthest edge of The Veranda and the cluster of shrubbery.

A burst of sand hit him in the face, and he growled, brushing it away as he jumped over the hedge and took off after the black-garbed hooded figure that bolted from behind the giant palm tree. Something red made Saint skid to a halt. He turned, his stomach dropping at the blinking red light. Years of training kicked in. He leaped back over the hedge and hit his PTT button, though his supervisor and fellow team members were already on the move, having seen him spring into action.

“Bug out! Possible IED,” Saint shouted into his com.

Everything moved in a flash. The Kings, the Wild Cards, and every security agent in place went into military/bodyguard mode, taking their positions. Agents alerted hotel security while Mason called 9-1-1. The rest of the team and their bosses rushed guests toward the emergency exits. They hurried everyone along, ensuring no one fell in the pool or got trampled.

Neither Val nor Frank had coms, but their voices boomed over the crowd, ordering everyone to move as quickly and calmly as possible. A woman twisted her ankle, and Frank scooped her up without missing a beat and carried her out the exit. Saint turned to follow his team members when he saw Val helping up a guest who’d tripped right in front of the trees concealing the device.


The man Val helped up ran for the exit just as Saint bolted in Val’s direction.  If that thing was an explosive device and it went off, there was no telling how far the devastation would reach.

The world around him seemed to slow down, and somewhere in the distance, Ryden shouted his name, but Saint had to get Val away from the damned trees. Seeing Saint running, Val took off, reaching for Saint’s hand just as everything went to hell.

Saint threw his arm up over his face as he soared through the air. Scorching heat whooshed over his body, and his lungs felt like they were on fire. He gasped for breath as something sharp struck him, and all at once, icy cold replaced the heat.

Cold water swirled around him, and he forced his eyes open. He was in the pool. Chunks of debris speared the water as he tried to figure out which way was up. Not panicking, he stilled, floating. Looking around, he spotted a chunk of one of the stone columns had fallen into the pool, pinning an unconscious Val to the bottom.

Fuck. There was no way he would be able to move it on his own.  Then someone dove into the pool. Ryden. Fuck yeah! Oorah.

Ryden motioned to the pillar, and they each grabbed one end. Saint gritted his teeth. Air bubbles rushed to the surface as they grunted, using all their strength to move the stone. Red mist floated around Saint.


Someone was bleeding. He couldn’t worry about that now. The chunk of pillar hit the bottom of the pool with a muted thunk, and Saint quickly wrapped an arm around Val’s waist. He swam with the bigger man, gasping and sucking in air when he broke the surface. The Veranda had been reduced to rubble, the palms and bushes on fire, smoke filling the night air.

“Saint! Hand him over.” Ryden was already out of the pool. He kneeled on the ledge, reaching for Val as Saint hoisted his limp body. Quickly, Saint climbed out, wincing at the sharp pain in his side, but he was too busy helping Ryden check Val to pay it any attention. Probably just pulled something.

“No visible injuries,” Saint confirmed.

Ryden was about to perform CPR when Val woke and started choking. They rolled him over onto his side as he coughed and spat water. He gasped for air, and Saint ran a soothing hand over his back.

“We need to get out of here,” Ryden said, grabbing Val’s arm.

His friend was right. There was no telling if there were any more devices. Saint helped Ryden get Val to his feet.

“Come on, Chief,” Saint growled as they each wrapped an arm around Val and hurried him out of the emergency exit…and into a complete circus. The street was blocked at each end and lined with ambulances, police cars, and other emergency vehicles.

“Saint, wait,” Val croaked, his fingers digging into Saint’s shoulder.

Before Saint could respond, Mason stormed over. “What the fuck! You assholes couldn’t answer your damn coms?” When he reached them, he realized they were soaking wet. “Shit.”

EMTs ran over to take Val, one trying to put an oxygen mask on him, but he brushed them away.

“Chief Serrano, please,” the EMT said, only to have Val move his face and shove the mask away.

“Saint,” Val growled. “Hospital.”

Saint frowned. “You want me to go with you to the hospital?”

“No,” Ryden said through a gasp, his eyes lifting to Saint’s. “He means you need a hospital.” He carefully peeled Saint’s jacket away from his side, and Saint’s world tilted off its axis. “Fuck.”

Mason started shouting, but Saint couldn’t make out the words as shadows and colors swirled around him. Darkness encroached, and Saint felt multiple pairs of hands on him. Was that King?


“You’re going to be okay. You hear me, Cavallero?”

Saint nodded, or at least he thought he did. He couldn’t tell. Then he was lifted off his feet, his back against something soft, the night sky above him. What the hell was happening?

A calloused, firm grip on his hand had him trying to focus, but he couldn’t make out who it was. The touch was nice. Comforting. Saint thought maybe he’d said Val’s name, or maybe he just thought it. Before he could figure it out, the darkness took him.