Gunnar's Guardian (Protect and Serve #1) - Pandora Pine

PROLOGUE

Kennedy

June, 2000…

Tiago had finally gone too far. I was sitting in the center of what used to be the living room with blood dripping down my chin and my left eye swollen to the point that I could no longer see out of it. There wasn’t much to see anyway. Not anymore.

Furniture was overturned and the glass coffee table was shattered. Wicked shards of glass littered the living room rug, twinkling like stars in the glow of the television. There was blood on some of the broken pieces. It had been my mother who’d broken the glass. Tiago’s right hook to the face sent her sprawling. She’d gotten her right forearm in front of her face a spilt-second before it hit the glass.

I’d seen the fear in Tiago’s eyes when he grabbed my bleeding mother and dragged her toward the bedroom they shared. She’d gone kicking and screaming, knocking a lamp and the end table over in the process. The table tipped onto its top, leaving the legs sticking up like a beetle on its back. I could see the blood trail she’d left as he’d hustled her off.

The fight had started over homework. My mother asked me to get working on it. I said no. There were ten minutes left in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I was mad for Spike. He made my heart pound in my chest and gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t explain, but wanted more of.

Tiago hit me for daring to say no to the order. For once, my mother stepped in between the two of us and she’d gotten hit so hard that the glass-topped table had broken her fall and probably her arm.

Ten minutes ago, life was normal. Well, as normal as things were in this place. My mom had known Tiago for a week before letting him move in with us. That had been almost six months ago. Being fast on her feet with men was her usual way. Kitty Lynch was never without a man.

My real father was dead. Lost at sea in a fishing accident. That was life in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When the fleet left the harbor, there was no guarantee any of them would come home.

It was always the same when my mom moved in a new boyfriend. The men were nice to me for the first day or two. Then shit hit the fan. I was slapped. Beaten. Burned with cigarettes. One asshole even tried to touch me down there, but I wasn’t having any of that. I punched him in the junk and then he punched me in the face. I woke up three days later in the hospital, but at least he was gone. The house didn’t stay empty of a man for long.

Rinse. Repeat. Second verse, same as the first.

Loud cries from the back of the house brought me back to the present. It was my mother screaming for help.

“No, Tiago! Don’t! Stop! Noooooooooo!” My mother’s cry ended on what sounds to me like a gurgle. Even at ten years old, I knew what that sound meant. I was an orphan. If I didn’t move and move fast, Tiago would kill me too.

I wobbled to my feet, my brain scrambling for a place to hide. In a two-bedroom apartment, there weren’t many places a kid my size could go. The broom closet was my only option. I looked longingly at the front door but knew that other people would get hurt if I dragged neighbors into our fight. This was my fault. I needed to deal