Authors: K. S. Ruff
Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Inspirational, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
stomach did a little flip when he tucked me inside the Porsche.
ready?” Rafael asked after buckling up.
I’ll ever be.” Excitement won over fear when he turned the key.
tires squealed when he peeled out of the garage. “They don’t live far.”
got the best of me when Rafael drove outside the city center. We appeared to be
driving along the Atlantic coastline. “They don’t live in Lisbon?”
shifted gears. “They live in a nearby parish called Cruz Quebrada.”
drove past a number of post-apocalyptic looking buildings. Low income housing,
I presumed, based on the crumbling architecture, the decaying lawns, and the laundry
draped outside the windows. “What’s up with all the graffiti?”
glanced at the building on our right. “Graffiti is considered street art here.
It’s encouraged in some areas, discouraged in others. The city council decided
to make neglected and abandoned buildings available to street artists, so
they’ll leave the historic sites alone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always pan
out that way.”
wished I could read Portuguese so I could decipher the words marring the
buildings. Abruptly, the landscape changed. This area boasted large single
family homes. Most of them were white with red tiled roofs. Rafael turned off
the main road and climbed a small hill. He turned down another street before parking
next to a house with a swimming pool overlooking the ocean.
Eva cried warmly. She kissed him on both cheeks and offered him a fierce hug
before lecturing him in both Spanish and Portuguese.
laughed. “This is my fiancé, Kristine.”
smiled and kissed both of my cheeks. “Welcome. Welcome.” She tugged on my arm
while pushing Rafael inside.
strode across the room. “Rafael!” The two men hugged while exchanging hearty
slaps on the back. “This must be Kristine, the woman who unwittingly stole your
heart.” He scoffed at my outstretched hand and pressed a kiss to my cheek
instead. “Welcome to the family.”
you, Benjamim, for everything. I understand you had the car serviced and the
apartment stocked in advance of our arrival. We haven’t had to worry about a
single thing.” I turned to Eva. “You must take me shopping while I’m here. I
love your taste in clothes. Everything you picked out for me has fit
beautifully. The red dress and heels…”
laughed when a low growl rose from Rafael’s chest.
had the desired effect,” I finished with a lighthearted laugh.
popped open a bottle of wine. “We’re happy to help, although we do have an
ulterior motive. We’d like you to spend more time in Lisbon.”
pulled me close. “I’ll admit, I miss being here. Paris was nice, and I do enjoy
living in Alexandria, but there’s no place quite like Lisbon.”
has been too long,” Eva scolded.
handed us each a glass of wine.
looked at Rafael. “How long have you been gone?”
a year. I spent the entire month of December here last year while you were with
your cousin in Great Falls.”
snorted. “Four weeks was not enough, besides you’ve been gone far longer than
looked thoughtful, as if doing some additional math. “I moved… well, it was two
years ago in September. I spent the holidays in Lisbon that first year while
Michael was in Virginia and returned again in March when Kristine was in the
Bahamas. So, I’ve been gone a little over two years, but I’ve been back three
times… four, counting this trip.”
visit more once Kristine is done with school,” Benjamim predicted. “You know
how grueling school can be, and Kristine’s working while attending school full
eyes widened with surprise. A man I knew nothing about seemed to know all about
all he ever talks about,” Eva explained. “He’s also shared a number of
pictures. That’s why it was so easy to shop for you.”
led us out onto a large patio where plush outdoor furniture framed a square
coffee table. A variety of olives, bread, cheese, and thinly sliced meat were
sitting on the table, along with a stack of appetizer plates, cloth napkins,
four sparkling waters, and two bottles of wine. The furniture was nestled
between a palm tree and a large swimming pool with a built in hot tub. Two
stainless steel patio heaters were glowing softly between the chairs and couch.
“The temperature drops once the sun falls,” Benjamim explained.
and I sat next to one another on the couch. Eva claimed the chair closest to
the house, and Benjamim settled into the chair opposite her. The patio had an
amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean, although it felt odd, seeing the sun set on
the same ocean where it rose in Virginia.
scooted closer to Rafael. “I’d love to hear some stories about Rafael.”
topped off our wine. “I assume she’s heard about the GOE?”
de Operacoes Especiais,
the Portuguese Police Special Operations Group,”
smiled. “Rafael was the youngest officer to be admitted to the GOE. He applied
shortly after securing his master’s degree from the Higher Institute of Police
Sciences and Internal Security. Only five percent of the applicants survive the
first stage of training. Unlike Rafael, most of the candidates have spent years
on the force. He’d been on the force for less than a year when he applied for
snagged a couple of olives. “The first stage of selective training is brutal,
but it only lasts seven days. The second stage of selective training takes two
months. You still have to undergo basic training when you’re admitted to the
group, but that part was fun.”
Eva repeated incredulously.
shrugged. “We were trained in VIP protection, precision shooting, hostage
extraction, hostage negotiation, and martial arts. I learned how to drive fast,
and I got to blow stuff up.”
laughed. “That explains why you’re so adept at driving the Porsche.” I knew
Rafael was glossing over things, but I suspected he’d been trained to do that
as well. He joined the special operations group because his parents were murdered.
He wanted to protect others from that same dark fate. Those other candidates
may have been more skilled and more experienced, but Rafael’s demons had
rendered him a fiercely determined candidate.
served in the special operations group for six years before agreeing to work
for Michael,” Benjamim continued. “Two years in counter-terrorism, four years
in VIP protection.”
felt… guilty. I couldn’t believe Rafael endured all that training and
relinquished that career so he could babysit me.
eyes softened. “I wasn’t planning to leave the force, at least not initially. I
only agreed to use my personal leave to watch over you while Michael checked on
the renovations in Paris. The day I decided to leave the force was the day I discovered
you crying on that park bench.” He scowled. “Michael wasn’t entirely honest
about where things stood between the two of you. Kadyn threw me for a loop. You
went to Montana, and then Justin kidnapped you. Michael couldn’t stay away
after that. He sent me back to Paris to oversee the security installation for
the mansion, and… well, you know the rest.”
grasped his hand. “I’m so sorry.”
not.” He brushed a tear from my cheek before he kissed me.
going to check on dinner,” Eva interjected softly. She disappeared into the
seems much happier,” Benjamim mused, “despite all of the horrific experiences
the two of you have endured.”
eyes sought Rafael’s. “So he knows?”
knows about your ex-husband, the Trout Lake incident, the attack in Paris, the
Ukraine, and Mexico.” He squeezed my hand reassuringly.
a way, I’m relieved. Although, I can’t imagine what you must think of me.” I forced
myself to meet Benjamim’s gaze.
see a strong and courageous woman who has given my friend a reason to choose
life and love over death,” Benjamim answered frankly.
glanced at him in surprise.
wasn’t the only one questioning your decision to join the force. I thought you joined
so you could fulfill some sort of death wish,” Benjamim explained. “Now the
Order… that’s an entirely different story.”
turned to alarm.
eyes widened. “You haven’t told her?”
Order?” I repeated. “What Order?”
have to tell her,” Benjamim whispered.
returned with a large metal bowl. Tiny tendrils of steam curled in front of her.
Arroz de Tamboril cons Gambas
,” she announced cheerily.
stood. He pinned Rafael with a stern look. “I’ll get the bowls.” He turned Eva
around and steered her back inside the house.
looked at me. “I…” He swallowed nervously.
My heart skipped a couple of beats. He was not the type of man to get nervous…
you remember our conversation from last night?”
God.” I jumped to my feet. “You’re not. Please tell me you’re not.”
backed toward the pool. “Rafael,” I breathed. “You’re not. Tell me you’re not!”
took a single cautious step toward me. “I’m a Templar. I was inducted into the
knighthood when I took a bullet for the Prime Minister five years ago.”
bullet?” I took another step back. I’d seen the man naked multiple times. I
couldn’t recall any scars.
stepped closer. He lifted his arm and shirt. There, under his arm, was a thin
white scar. “The bullet grazed me when I dove on top of the Prime Minister and
shoved him to the ground.”
swords, the knight, the king, and queen all flashed before my eyes. “You can’t
be,” I argued. “You’re not poor or celibate.”
took another step, just as my heel struck the edge of the pool. His words
rushed out all at once. They sounded rehearsed but jumbled up. “The Knights
Templar were dispensed from their vow of celibacy in 1496 and from their vow of
poverty in 1505. They were secularized under Queen Maria’s rule… Queen Maria I
of Portugal.” He took a deep breath. “Globally, there are two orders; one
civil, one religious. The Templar faction in Portugal is strictly civil.”
I edged away from the pool. I couldn’t believe the Knights Templar still existed,
that they were
and Rafael belonged to this archaic
Order? What did that even mean? I shook my head in disbelief. The man standing
in front of me was a complete stranger. I thought I knew who he was… but I
didn’t. I’d agreed to marry him, and I didn’t even know who he was.
froze. He knew I was about to bolt. “I tried to tell you last night, but you
seemed upset by the idea. The restaurant wasn’t the best place to explain. I’ve
been trying to tell you all day, but…” He trailed off uncertainly. “I was
worried you wouldn’t want to marry me.”
strangled sound caught in my throat. “I don’t know you,” I whispered. “I don’t
even know who you are.” He had a home, a car, and friends I knew nothing about.
That was difficult enough, but this? This was...
lunged for me. His hands clamped over my arms as he pulled me against his chest.
“You do know me. You know me better than anyone else. Look at me. Feel me!”
inch of his body strained against mine... his muscular thighs… an abdomen and
chest carved from granite… broad shoulders… fiercely determined eyes. Every
inch of this man screamed…
shook me gently, forcing me to meet his stormy gaze. “This doesn’t change
anything. I’m still the same person you fell in love with… the man who loves
you more than life itself.”
heart beat against his chest. “What does this mean for you… for us?”
sighed. “My life is not entirely my own. I have certain obligations, and those
obligations will obligate you.”
mean?” I was thoroughly confused.
grand master granted my request to live and work in the United States so I
could be closer to you, but there were some conditions.” He willed me to
loosened his hold on me, infinitesimally. “I’ve been asked to strengthen the
faction in the United States, which is too small given your land mass and your population
base. I still accept assignments from Portugal, and he retains the right to
order me back to Portugal at any time.”
about the security firm?” My eyes widened. Rafael’s security firm protected
foreign dignitaries. “Are they all…”