The Soldier and the Bodyguard (Ellery Mountain #10) - R.J. Scott

ONE

Adrian

Three months ago

I’ve known JC since I was two.

I didn’t remember much about our first meeting, but I recall with absolute clarity all the years between then and the moment I fell in love with him.

We couldn’t have been more different. JC’s grandparents—Georgina and Elliot Baker—were old money, so wealthy no one knew exactly what they were worth. Their son, JC’s father, was an actor; his mom a model; and I was just the youngest kid of the housekeeper. I get that was the worst kind of cliché, but we were born to be friends forever, and that friendship didn’t diminish, even when JC spent an entire semester in a boarding school, separating us when we were ten.

He hated that we were apart. He ran away.

When he arrived at the house, he found me in the stables crying into Cody’s mane, and we both knew, without saying, that we were miserable apart. After a heated debate with his grandparents, he’d ended up attending a local private school with enough security to make everyone happy. In a mysterious turn of events, there was a scholarship to allow me to attend as well, and so our friendship continued. I know that the money had to have come from the Baker estate, but no one ever told me for sure. Then, at thirteen, when I realized that I like boys, it was JC who had my heart.

When he’d broken up with his first girlfriend and decided to try things with a boy in his English class called Robbie, I watched from afar; and my stupid hopeful heart had wished it was me he was dating. Robbie hadn’t lasted long, nor had Penny, or Mike, or Jamie, or any of the other people he’d dated. I know it was wrong for me to be happy when he didn’t go on second dates, but JC never seemed unhappy moving from person to person and never forming any kind of relationships.

He didn’t need them he said—because he had me.

We followed each other to college, both studied economics—more my decision than his; both dropped out to join the army—more his decision more than mine; and I watched him go on dates throughout, but my heart survived, and I came to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to fall in love with any other man. It seemed that I was specifically JC-sexual.

We trained together. I had his back; he had mine; and in the eight years we were enlisted, our friendship expanded to include Jack Taylor and Demi Aston—Taylor and Asti. They were an integral part of our lives right up until the day they’d died.

A day filled with so much horror that it wakes me up at night as nightmares chase me in my sleep.

A bullet had passed through Taylor’s heart and hit JC in the temple, slowing enough through Taylor, that it didn't kill JC outright. Fragments of the slug were still in JC’s head now, pressing on his brain. His emotions were in turmoil—his memory was strong one day, the next it was gone—the PTSD was crippling, not to mention the survivor's guilt, and worst of all…

The very worst thing…

I came away from that fight with nothing more than a concussion and hearing damage.

Nothing big in a physical sense, although my ear injury led to me being discharged. Emotionally however, I didn’t need a therapist to tell me that I was frozen in the single moment when I thought JC had died. The therapist wanted me to push through, to center myself, to find myself; but I wanted to be strong for JC. So I shoved everything down, became Adrian-the-dependable, the hero, the bodyguard, the medical assist; and thanked the heavens that I was at the end of my time in the army anyway.

“Are you taking the bullet out?” JC asked the latest doctor who had examined the records from the army surgeons and the private experts who followed. The doc frowned at him. He’d already explained how there was only a small chance that the bullet would migrate, that it wasn't causing an infection, and the damage was done, so there was no point in worrying. I knew there were letters in his records from his family—specifically his parents—asking that hope wasn’t given to JC when there was none. I hated that they had to say that—everyone is entitled to hope, but I was just as bad at never telling him the truth. The bullet wasn’t coming out, and the damage would shape