Home > Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)

Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
Krista Ritchie, Becca Ritchie

1

THATCHER MORETTI

First thing people know about me, I’m tall.

Second thing, I’m a twin.

Third thing, I’m a pain in your fucking ass. If you’re not giving a hundred shits at rest or in high water, I will hammer you.

One further, I’ll volunteer to be the bad guy if it means protecting lives and keeping minds right on the team.

But I didn’t imagine I’d lose her in the process.

I stare straight ahead and breathe hot breath out of my fucking nose. Can’t think about that now. I have a job to do.

She is my job.

And I need to unfuck this shit. I take full responsibility, and I’m going to shovel us out of the hellhole I’ve thrown ourselves in.

I have to.

A roaring beach bonfire lights up the sparkling night sky. The Aegean Sea calm and dark behind me, my boots sunk in damp sand on the shoreline. I stand still. Watchful.

Attentive.

Prepared for any hellfire.

This isn’t my first time in Greece, and that fact sits with me for an extra beat. I grew up in a one-bedroom South Philly apartment and shared a pullout couch with my brother. In my head, there weren’t many ways I’d see the world.

Eventually, Xander Hale happened. Becoming that kid’s bodyguard was a bright spot in my life. Not because I could see more of the world, but because I still had a hand in protecting someone else’s.

It’s what fuels me.

I’m strong to protect the soft.

I’ve felt that, even as a fucking teenager. I read The Iliad in high school. Men fighting on an ancient battlefield. Facing challenges that’d test their strength of will. Embarking on harrowing adventures while serving their country.

I wanted to be a Spartan warrior.

And I grew to look like one. Broad-chested and shouldered, muscled and toned, towering and relentless at six-foot-seven. Severity within hard lines of my body and face.

No matter where my boots land, I’m meant to fight for something.

And at twenty-two, I began protecting these three famous families. Cut to six years later, and this is still where I need to be. Where I want to be. I’d put my life on the fucking line for them. It’s more than a nine-to-five job, more than a career—this is a lifestyle meant for the men who aren’t going to quit and take the easy fucking out.

I’ve kicked exits open for bodyguards who thought private security would be a straight shot to luxury. This is about keeping people safe 24-hours a day, and we’re not entitled to anything. We fulfill our purpose. If we expect more, we’ve failed at our promise to these generous, loving families who just want to live in peace.

We should be humbled to be in Greece or wherever protecting them leads us.

Stay focused.

On her.

Jane Eleanor Cobalt.

She’s sitting about twenty meters away, feet buried in the sand. Light-hearted blue eyes concentrated on one of her many brothers.

Eliot Cobalt stands near the bonfire and rehashes a story or some play. Flames lick the air, and as he gesticulates theatrically, the famous families laugh and clap.

She taps her beer bottle in applause.

I catch myself about to skim her up and down. Don’t.

I remain stationary. I’m not supposed to be an active participant, but some surrounding bodyguards clap for Eliot. They’re the ones who’ve grown closer to the Cobalts throughout the years.

I wouldn’t place myself on that shelf.

Before transferring to Jane’s detail, I was attached to the Hale family. Xander Hale had been my only other client, and even if I were better acquainted with the Cobalt Empire, I’m not interested in joking around while on-duty. If I wouldn’t do it during an op, I’m not doing it on her detail.

Her safety comes first.

Jane sips a beer on the private beach, and she stays quiet while her brother quotes Shakespeare, or some other tragedy. I wouldn’t know which.

I keep a close eye on Jane and her surroundings.

It’s my job.

It’s also my job to know her well. Like how she’s been unusually quiet this summer trip, and it’s my job to know that I’m to blame.

Can’t worry about that now.

But I am.

Jane lets a beach blanket fall off her sunburnt shoulders, warmed near the bonfire. A pale blue tankini hugs her body.

I want to think some things I shouldn’t be fucking thinking. Put in some adjectives that I shouldn’t be using. All good things—don’t go there.

Don’t fucking do it.

I’m not overstepping the solid boundary.

I scan the beach with crossed arms, but eventually, my dark narrowed eyes return to Jane.

Long brunette hair frizzes around her freckled cheeks, and she smiles brightly at her brother. Applauding him again before she sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles loudly. She’s only twenty-three.

She’s only twenty-three. And she’s dealt with more harassment than any girl her age should—than any person should.

I’ve heard sacks of horseshit spew hatred and try to degrade her, and they actually believe they’re entitled to her body and time like she’s some fucking doll they can rip apart with no consequence.

They’re targets.

Men that I will fucking take out before they breathe on Jane. And after what happened with her recent friends-with-benefits, my duty to Jane is unquantifiable.

On the beach, I end up glancing back at her.

She leans some of her weight into Maximoff Hale, her best friend. He’s been scanning the beaches almost as much as security. Preparing for threats like he’s another bodyguard. Truth is, I’d welcome Maximoff on the team. But he can’t be on it.

Not when he’s a part of the famous families that we protect.

I try to scan the water, but my strict gaze drifts back to Jane, just as Maximoff wraps a strong arm around her shoulders. She whispers in his ear, a smile attached to her words.

He laughs back.

My stomach drops a bit.

For one second, I wish I could be in earshot. Don’t fucking wish that.

Her smile seems to fade faster than usual, and slowly, her gaze begins to wander across the beach.

To the dark sea.

And then, her big blue eyes land right on me.

I blow out another rough breath through my nose. Never breaking eye contact.

Call her over.

Point-blank, I’m not sure how. This feels personal on some level, and it’s against my fucking job to make a personal move. I can’t interrupt her time with her family.

There are rules in security. Rules that help her just as much as they help the team, and I won’t disobey them.

My jaw hardens, tendons in my arms and neck pulling taut. Muscles burning. I cement to the shoreline like the rest of the 24/7 bodyguards. Water rushes against the heels of my boots. I never shift out of my position.

Call her over, I’m still thinking.

But I’m immobile.

I can’t move.

Can’t disobey.

Jane quickly diverts her gaze, her neck reddened, frustration in her next hot sip of beer.

I breathe in another coarse breath.

We used to have a better working dynamic. She’d talk my ear off, and I’d listen. Now she says nothing, and I still say next-to-nothing.

Eight months.

I’ve been Jane’s bodyguard for eight months, and I’ve been put on a silent treatment for almost two of those. Any other client and it wouldn’t bother me, but I’ve grown used to Jane rambling to herself and filling the quiet.

I’m with her close to 24-hours a day. Replacing her light-as-air voice with silence has been fucking unbearable. It doesn’t feel good knowing that I fucked it recently. I blew a short fuse even shorter and I made a mistake that I’ve never made before. I shouldn’t have punched Farrow.

My fault.

It’s all my fault.

I suddenly spot movement on my three. I glance at the shoreline.

Banks nods his chin to me.

Good timing.

Focusing on the team has always kept my mind right and off things I shouldn’t be fucking contemplating.

Banks treks over to my position, boots sinking in wet sand. Carrying nothing more than a radio and a gun, both clipped to the waistband of his slacks. Sweat stains the abs and armpits of his white button-down.

I’m dressed in a black button-down. Professional. I’m not representing these billion-dollar families in fucking flannel. Not unless I’m off-duty. Or away from the parents.

Banks sidles next to me. He’s gnawing on a toothpick like a damn llama.

My hard gaze narrows on him before I continue hawk-eyeing the beach. Something’s wrong with my brother.

He’s been trying to quit smoking for years, and the only time it looks like he’s about to bite a toothpick in five halves is when he’s craving nicotine.

He glances at me briefly, and then scans the darkened sea behind us. “You have any ibuprofen on you?”

My brows pull together while I survey the families. “You have a migraine?” I dig into my pocket.

“No, fortunately.” He threads his arms over his chest. “This is just the kind of pain associated with me being a dumbass.” His eyes flash to me. “I think I threw my back out.”

I’m rigid, and concern grips my muscles. “When?” I pass him a packet of ibuprofen behind my back, as covertly as possible.

Without looking at me, he slips the medicine in his back pocket. Banks doesn’t like the team knowing he’s dealing with any kind of pain.

“Earlier today,” he answers. “During the whole celebration.” He cocks his head back to the sea. Referring to when Omega was horsing around. Shoving and tackling guys in the water. Because Farrow Keene was reinstated to the security team.

My eyes drill into pinpoints, just thinking about Farrow.

Again, shouldn’t have punched him.

Can’t shake that fucking truth.

I take a constricting breath, my nostrils flaring.

Banks notices, and he opens his mouth to speak—we both suddenly look to our eleven. At the sand dunes.

Three temp bodyguards are gawking directly at us. They’re fresh blood. Newly-hired, just for this vacation.

Which is why their eyeballs are popping out of their faces. Staring at us like we’re six-foot-seven woolly mammoths. It’s not because we’re tall or attractive or unshaven—or an extinct prehistoric fucking species.

It’s because we’re identical.

We glare head-on until they divert their gazes.

“Another day, another shitbag stares away,” Banks says, sounding indifferent.

After twenty-eight years, we’re both used to it.

Most of the time I forget that Banks and I look identical until someone eagle-eyes us to death, and then I remember I’m a twin.

Same DNA.

Same imposing height, large hands and feet. We’ve kept our hair the same for most of our time in security. Thick brown strands reach our necks, pieces tucked behind our ears. Same scruff along our jaws, same hard brown eyes.

Sturdy builds, intimidating demeanors—we share a lot in common, more than just physical features. We have the same interests. It’s why we’re both here.

But our personalities are vastly different. It just takes people actual effort to see that, and for some reason, most people would rather be told who’s the “quiet one” and the “loud one” and the “funny one” instead of taking time to get to know us.

I don’t go up to people I first meet and ask, “Are you funny?”

So after a while, I just stopped listing out our personalities, but now that we’re older, we’ve become easier to tell apart from our features.

Banks has a fraction less muscle mass because I lift more, and my jaw is subtly more square to his narrow.

On the beach, I look at my brother, and I’m less tense. He’s familiarity and comfort during rough days. No matter how bad I fuck it, he’ll always be here.

I check over my shoulder, a routine sweep. “Which men need to rack out?” I ask him.

The past few days have been long and drawn out for the team with little to no sleep. Bodyguards will attempt to stay with their clients past exhaustion.

“Epsilon should be good,” Banks says. “For SFO, Oscar is probably pushing twenty-hours. Farrow could be going into thirty.”

Gut reaction, I glance down the shoreline and spot the bleach-white haired bodyguard, covered in skull and dagger tattoos. Farrow Redford Keene looks between a swashbuckling pirate and a fucking guitarist in a rock band.

He’s neither.

In actuality, he’s a doctor. Now a bodyguard again. Assigned to both the med team and security team, and he’s out of earshot while talking to Akara. The Omega lead is catching Farrow up on what he’s missed in security.

Farrow turns his head slightly.

I scout the other side of the beach to avoid our eyes meeting. Muscles flexed, I suck in a strained breath.

Banks plants his gaze on me. “I thought you said you were snapped to?”

We always say that to one another: you need to snap to. Can’t live in the past. He’s referring to Farrow. My past mistake. My fuck-up.

What I haven’t been able to mentally drop.

What I need to fix.

These men on the team are my responsibility.

My client is my life.

It’s what I live by.

And you fucked it, Thatcher.

I rake my hand across my jaw. “I shouldn’t have punched Farrow.” I haven’t said it out loud to my brother. Not until now. He’s just known I’ve been neck-deep in regret.

He’s been seeing and feeling my fucking torment the same way I can tell he’s in physical pain. It’s not some “psychic” connection. You just live with someone for twenty-eight years, and they’re a part of you like that.

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