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Title: The Guardian
Series: Sons of Texas #5
Release Date: September 21, 2020
Knowledge is power.
They live to protect. They live to fight for honor and justice. They live to love the women who have captured their souls. These are the Sons of Texas, from New York Times bestselling author Donna Grant.
As a double agent, Maks Petrov has been so many people, he doesn’t know who he is anymore. While he prefers to work alone, taking down an organization like the Saints requires some help—even if he loathes asking for it. Just one day in the company of a sexy, fearless, and brilliant information broker makes him realize what he’s been missing in life…and fantasizing about what he could have.
Eden Fontaine thought she knew the evils of the world until she was confronted with knowledge of the Saints and what they’ve done—and still could do. Lucky for her, she has Maks by her side, a trained operative who not only makes her feel safe and cared for but also makes her blood run hot. Eden’s never thought much about settling down, but Maks makes her crave a world without the Saints and the handsome guardian by her side for all eternity.
With the Saints upping their game, Maks and Eden have one shot at assembling the intelligence necessary to take down the evil organization for good. If they can, they may have a chance at the happily ever after they both deserve.
4.5 Stars! "THE GUARDIAN is a nail biting and action-packed conclusion to a gripping series." - Romance Junkies
"The series has been an exciting action packed one that has readers holding their breath as they get deeper into the world that seems realistic and (hopefully) far-fetched at the same time. Maks and Eden are amazing individuals, talented, insightful and perfectly matched. " - Fresh Fiction
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It wasn’t even dawn when Eden exited her flat. Maks kept to the shadows across the street as he noted her tight expression and the way she looked around nervously. She had replaced her tote with a backpack and a crossbody purse. Her steps were quick as she began walking.
Maks had wondered all night if she had found his message. It had been hours after he left her flat before a light had come on. And it and more had remained on until just a few minutes before she left. From his spot across the street, he saw that no one had come into the building aside from the delivery woman earlier. He waited, his gaze searching the shadows. If anyone was watching her, now would be the time they made their move to trail her.
Sure enough, two men fell into step behind her at different places. Maks looked in the opposite direction, but there was no sign of anyone else. He discreetly peeled himself from the shadows and started walking in the same direction as Eden and the two men.
When he realized her direction, Maks became curious as to where she was going via train. She didn’t stop to purchase a ticket once inside the terminal. Instead, she went straight to the platform for the trains heading to Budapest.
Both men following her hurried to buy tickets. Maks didn’t have that kind of time. He got next to someone going toward the platform with their voucher out to scan and bumped into them, taking their ticket at the same time. He dropped some money into the man’s coat pocket to make up for the theft. With his cap pulled down low, Maks used his travel document and got through before the other two men had even received their tickets.
Maks moved in behind Eden. He kept one eye on her and the other on anyone who looked suspicious. Just as the 5:47 a.m. train arrived, the men rushed onto the platform. They hadn’t seen him yet, which meant that they weren’t looking for him. Their mission was Eden. Maks wasn’t sure if that indicated they were supposed to just follow her or kill her. Regardless, he was going to put an end to all of it soon.
The moment the doors of the train opened, Eden got on and headed toward the front of the third car. Maks stayed behind, letting others go before him. The two goons got on in separate cars. Maks left the one in Eden’s car and went after the other. With long strides, he caught up with the man quickly enough.
Maks bumped into him roughly. “Entschuldigung sie. Excuse me,” he said.
The man barely looked his way, his attention on trying to keep his focus on Eden. Maks used that to his advantage and elbowed him in the back of the head, slamming the man’s face into a metal pole and knocking him out instantly.
Maks grabbed him before he could fall and said loud enough for others to hear, “You shouldn’t have had that last drink.”
The onlookers shook their heads and went back to doing what they had been doing before. Maks lugged the man to one of the seats in the back of the car and used the guy’s scarf to bind his hands to the rail just as the train left the station. He took a few minutes to check the man’s pockets and grabbed his wallet and mobile phone.
Maks then straightened, putting the items into his coat pocket before walking through the car and into the next one where Eden and the other goon were sitting. Eden was facing the front of the train, situated near the window. Her head was turned to look outside, her leg bouncing nervously up and down. The man sat diagonally to her across the aisle, his gaze locked on her. Eden was oblivious to it, as most would be. Only the trained knew what to look for in such situations.
Once more, the goon didn’t look his way. It was as if his only target was Eden, and he believed nothing could stand in his way of completing a successful mission. Too bad for him and his buddy that Maks was involved.
Maks sat across from the man and waited for him to look his way. It didn’t take long. It was just a glance, but the goon did a double-take and realized that Maks wasn’t just any passenger. Maks smiled and raised his brows, inviting the man to make a move.
The goon didn’t disappoint. He lunged, going straight for Maks’ throat. Maks kicked the man’s legs out from under him and used the downward momentum of the goon’s body to punch him in the throat. The man went limp, gagging as he struggled for breath. Maks then knocked him out with a quick punch to the goon’s jaw.
Across the aisle, Eden stared at him with wide eyes and a shocked expression. He ignored her for the moment and propped the man back up in his seat. Maks looked around, but no one seemed to be paying attention since everyone was on some kind of electronic gadget.
Maks then moved into the spot next to Eden. She squished herself as small as she could against the window. He didn’t look her way. “If I wanted you dead, I would’ve done it last night in your flat while you slept.”
There was a beat of silence as anger mixed with fear in her expression. “That was you?”
“You obviously did a search like I wanted. Otherwise, two men wouldn’t have been following you.”
He turned his face to her then, noting her confused and wary expression. “They’ve been on your tail since you walked from your flat, where I was also watching. The other one is in the car behind us.”
“Are…are they dead?” she asked in a whisper.
She swallowed, the sound loud even on the high-speed train. “Is Maks your real name?”
“You sound American.”
He looked forward then and released a breath. “Because I am.”
“How did you find me? Why did you come into my apartment? What are the Saints? Why are you still following me?”
With every question, her body uncurled, muscles going tight with annoyance and indignation. He looked at her once more. “I followed you from the office yesterday. I wanted to find out who you were. The Saints are a secret organization that has infiltrated every government, military, and security agency in the world. And I knew if you looked into them, they’d send someone. And…I need your help.”
She turned her head away to look out the window. She was silent for several minutes. Maks had taken a risk by asking for her help. He wasn’t sure why he’d done it. Maybe it was because of how he’d seen her yesterday—carefree and happy. If she was involved with the Saints, they wouldn’t have sent men after her.
At least, that was his thought.
“It’s not nice to break into someone’s house,” Eden stated before she looked at him.
He met her hazel eyes. “Extreme times call for extreme measures. I had to know what kind of person you were.”
“So, the words you left on my computer were a test?” she asked, her eyes narrowing in anger.
Max shrugged. “Call it whatever you want.”
“You wanted me to prove that you can trust me?” She rolled her eyes, snorting. “You’re the one who should be gaining my trust. Not the other way around.”
Without a doubt, she intrigued him. Eden wasn’t used to his way of life. Her reactions since the night before proved that. And yet she had spunk despite her fear. She might have a bright outlook on life, but she wasn’t one to be taken advantage of either.
“All right,” he said. “You have a point. However, you’re the one who has been doing research on me.”
She settled more comfortably in the chair. “That’s actually not true. My coworkers are, as well. Though it’s difficult to do when you don’t exist.”
“How good are you at your job?”
“Good enough that SynTech offered me a package to work for them—including moving me to Vienna—that nearly doubled what I was making on my own. And I was making a very good living working for myself.”
Maks bit back a smile. Yeah, she had pluck in spades. Which was a good thing because she was going to need it.
“The entire floor of IBs were looking for anything and everything on you,” she continued. “What did you do to get someone so riled up?”
Maks decided not to answer that for the moment. He might want her help, but that didn’t mean he trusted her. Not with the information that he was a spy. “You found something. In Amsterdam.”
She froze, once more taken off guard. Her visible reactions helped for him to put more trust in her, because reactions like that couldn’t be faked. Not to someone like him, who had been trained to look for anything that wasn’t genuine.
“How could you possibly know about that?” she demanded.
He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I saw you at your desk through my scope. You were watching footage of me in the train station.”
“Damn,” she mumbled and looked forward. “I never expected that.”
Maks took pity on her when he saw the amount of stress she was under. “I shouldn’t have gotten you to look into the Saints.”
Her head snapped to him. “Why did you pick me?”
A lie filled his head, but he didn’t say the words. “I saw you yesterday. People aren’t usually that cheerful going into work, but you were. I then did some recon on the building and spotted you again.”
“I saw you yesterday at lunch. Twice,” she said with a firm nod.
Maks didn’t confirm or deny that.
“I thought I was losing my mind,” she said more to herself than to him.
He tilted his head to the side. “Why didn’t you report me to your boss? I’m sure you handed over the train station footage.”
She cut her eyes to him and twisted her lips. “Actually, I didn’t. Another coworker of mine, Kyle, was the one who used his special algorithm to locate where you’d been. I kinda stole that information from him and used it myself.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her kinda stole comment. “That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t turn over the information.”
“I don’t know,” she said with a half-hearted shrug. “From the moment they gave us the picture of you, there was something about you that pulled at me. At first, I thought it was because finding information on you was a challenge, but,”—she paused, a frown creasing her brow—“it’s more than that. Yet I can’t explain it.”
Maks knew precisely what she was talking about because he’d felt the same thing about her from the moment he first laid eyes on her. “I’m glad you didn’t tell anyone about that.”
“I didn’t tell anyone that I thought I saw you yesterday, either.” She rolled her eyes, chuckling softly. “I’d stayed up the night before doing more digging on you from my home computer, so I chalked it up to me being tired.”
Now he knew why she’d slept for so long. “Did Kyle find me?”
“Yeah. He was in the office with the suits yesterday when I left for lunch. I’m not sure how much he found. My guess is that he didn’t see the footage of you jumping in front of the train, though.”
Maks was even more impressed that she’d found that. “I was being tailed and had to run.”
“Tailed? How did they find you?”
“They knew I was in Amsterdam since I’d been found earlier that night. It made sense to watch public transportation.”
She licked her lips. “I got a decent look at your face on the CCTV from the station. You did good keeping yourself from being seen, but after you got to the other platform and walked with the crowd up the steps to the main floor, they got a good shot of three-quarters of your face.”
Shit. He couldn’t make mistakes like that. While he couldn’t account for every camera—because some were hidden on purpose—he should’ve expected one to be in that spot to catch those coming up from the trains below.
“How did you know who was looking into you?” Eden asked in puzzlement.
“I have a friend who is a hacker. She found the company that was hired to dig up information about me.”
Eden glanced away. “I see. Did you intend to pick someone to help you?”
“No,” he admitted. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I needed to look at the building, learn more about the company and their employees, and go from there.”
“You don’t seem concerned that someone is looking for you.”
Maks drew in a deep breath and slowly released it. “It comes with the territory, I suppose.”
“How do you live like this?”
“I suppose you get used to it.”
She looked out the window, nodding absently. Then she faced him. “Are you a spy?”
He stared into her hazel eyes, a dozen lies coming to mind. Whoever was looking for him had already blown his cover. So what if someone knew his profession? He was going down, and he was going to take anyone and everyone associated with the Saints down with him.
“Yes,” he replied.
Her eyes widened briefly. “I didn’t expect you to admit it.”
“I usually don’t.”
“Why tell me, then?”
He smiled, chuckling softly. “Damned if I know.”