Home > His to Shelter (The Guard #1)

His to Shelter (The Guard #1)
Author: Em Petrova

Chapter One



“Repeat after me. A little bit bodyguard. A little bit Bond.”

Oswald Morgon—aka Oz—overheard the command and laughed. He walked over to the men standing together in a shaft of colored light beaming through the high stained glass church window.

“North, you’re abusing your power, asking him to speak an oath that isn’t ours.” He looked to the newest member. “I’ll do the honors of inducting you in a few minutes.”

North gave him a cheesy smart-ass grin. “Sorry, Daddy.”

Oz leveled him in his best you’d-better-kiss-up-starting-now glare.

North bowed. “I mean Father.”

“That’s better.” He raised his jaw at their inductee. “I’ll be with you in a little while. I’ve got service to attend. Sit tight. Have some communal wine.” He gestured to the fully stocked bar against one wall of the church which housed their operation.

As he navigated the corridors to the back of the cathedral, his footsteps muffled into silence. Behind what had once been the altar, a door led to the priest’s chambers. The priest acted as the head of a parish. And Oz headed this organization. The Guard was his brainchild, born of necessity in a world with too many cracks for victims to slip through. The Guard closed those gaps with a fucking superglue bond. Nobody got past them. Nobody slipped in or out without them allowing it.

Once in the chamber, he closed the door behind him. Two people seated at the small table they used for conferences looked up at his entrance. Tension like a brick wall coated in a layer of concrete stood between them.

“I know what you’re about to tell me.” As he sank into a chair, he sighed.

Madeline’s blue gaze pierced him. “You’ve heard from Lars?”

Oz shook his head. “No, but I know everything that goes on in this organization. I know the whereabouts of every single member of the Church.”

“Then you knew Lars slipped into Russia?” Madeline arched her blonde brows at him. Fairer than any woman he’d ever seen, Madeline lived up to her Scandinavian roots, right down to the lithe build of her body. Her appearance fooled a lot of men, though, especially after she kicked their asses with her bastardized version of Jujitsu mixed with street fighting.

Her piercing stare didn’t frighten Oz, though.

“We have a trace directly to his microchip. How do you explain him sharing intel with that Russian counterintelligence agent? It’s a crime punishable by death in this organization, Oz. Or have you forgotten?”

He gave Madeline a flat look. “I haven’t forgotten the rules, Madeline. I wrote them, remember?” Oz turned to the man on his right. A deacon in The Guard, the man was his right hand in all things. If Oz went down in a ball of flames, Roman stepped into his proverbial robes and took control of the organization.

“Roman, do you condemn your brother, Lars, before giving him a trial?” Oz asked him.

Having just returned from an undercover assignment, Roman wore the disguise of a sixty-year-old man, complete with gray hair and wrinkles. Oz marveled at how damn masterful his brother was in the art of disguise.

Roman rubbed at his tired-looking face, but the lines didn’t smudge under his fingertips like some who attempted such makeup feats. “I don’t want to think Lars is a turncoat. But…”

“He is Russian born,” Madeline interjected.

“And you’re Scandi. Do I suspect you of turning on us every time you call your grandmother?”

“That’s different,” she snapped. “I don’t have any dealings with counterintelligence agents or the Scandinavian government at all.”

“And I stand on the record as saying Lars must have a damn good reason. Let’s see what happens.”

“You’re going with a wait-and-see mentality, even knowing that Lars used his chip to share information with this person? Need I remind you that sharing intelligence even with a pet cat is forbidden?” Madeline stood and swept to the window. The stained glass interpretation of St. Peter performing the first miracle after Jesus’s death cast red and blue colors across her pale face and hair.

Oz spread his hands on the table. He stared at them for a moment. He knew each scar he bore and could recount where and how he’d received it. If one of his brothers had betrayed them, he would know that too.

He met Roman’s gaze. “I stand by my conviction. It doesn’t matter what DNA courses through Lars’s veins—he wouldn’t betray us. If he used his chip and revealed intel to this Russian, then he has good reason.”

“I can’t think of any,” Madeline shot out. “Can you?”

Oz issued a low growl of irritation. “I will wait and hear why from his own lips, when he returns to us.”

Madeline twisted away from the stained glass and stepped into the golden light once again. “I don’t know if I have the same convictions you do, Oz, but I will concede on the matter until further investigation.”

“Thank you, Sister. And you, Roman?”

His brother met his gaze. “I’m loyal to you. Always, Oz.”

With a nod, he stood and waved to the door. “We have a new member to bring into the fold. Shall we meet the others and begin the ceremony?”

The three of them stepped into the church. Members of the parish who’d come from all over the United States—and the world—lined each pew to act as witness.

As soon as Oz stood at the front of the church, everybody rose. “Welcome home, everyone. This is a momentous occasion. We’ve come to celebrate a new member joining us, and as we all know, this ceremony brings that member deep into our hearts. We think for the good of all. Today, this person will learn the true meaning of brotherhood.” He looked over the group. “Be seated. Gabriel Archer, if you will come forward?”

A rustle sounded as over one hundred members of The Guard sat again. Looking around, Oz recognized each and every person, including those in disguise, such as Roman who stood at his side to assist him in the induction.

Without hesitation, Archer moved forward.

“Take a knee,” Oz instructed.

The man lowered to one knee, and Oz took his place standing over him. He addressed the church. “This man, Gabriel Archer, has proved himself worthy of The Guard. Not only has he come with military training and two tours in Afghanistan, he was a prisoner of war who managed escape—not once but twice after he was recaptured. Using his skills, he not only freed himself but several other military officers who were held as prisoners and had been missing, suspected dead. He has been in and out of embassies like a ghost and is a master of disguise. For these reasons, Gabriel Archer, we accept you into our fold. Do you accept?”

“I do,” he drawled in the deepest Southern accent any of them had acquired by natural means rather than adopted for a mission.

Oz smiled at the parish. “Hear that? It’s real, folks. It’s pure Texas.” He mimicked the drawl to perfect effect. Archer grinned and everyone laughed.

“Now stand.”

When Archer gained his feet, silence filled the space clear to the highest point of the cathedral ceilings.

“These are your promises, Archer. Repeat after me.”

The big Texan nodded.

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