Circle Eight 8
The shadows can consume us, if we let them. Love can redeem us, if we believe.
Benjamin Graham has spent all of his adult life hiding from his past. Kidnapped as a child, he's struggled to leave the dark memories behind him until the fateful day when he comes to face to face with a monster from his past. He loses control, he loses himself, and tries to disappear into the wilds of Texas.
Grace Beckett hasn't had an easy life. Her grief pushes her to disguise herself for revenge, but her path takes a right turn when she meets the Grahams. Ben becomes the only person who can help her, much to his dismay.
When their mission brings them back to the dark past in Ben's nightmares, they have to find a way to rely on each other, stay alive and become the people they want to be. Love will become their salvation, if they forgive themselves and heal their hearts and souls together.
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A bead of sweat rolled down the center of Grace Beckett’s back. Her hands shook but she’d be damned if she let Ben Graham see it. She could hardly believe she’d found him. It was him. There was no mistaking it. Although his eyes and hair were a different color than his sister’s, the face was similar. Besides, she witnessed what he’d done four months ago even if she’d watched from twenty feet away.
He also had haunted shadows in his gaze. She recognized his damaged soul as kindred to her own. This was the man who had derailed her careful plans for revenge. Ruined a year’s worth of searching for the bastard, Cunningham.
He’d stolen from her and she intended to find a way to quench the unending thirst for satisfaction. She pulsed with a blood lust that she couldn’t control most days.
Today she forced herself to keep the violence tucked away. For now, she would maintain control. She would have her vengeance soon enough. This man was the key to achieving it.
“You plan to shoot me?” He opened his arms wide. “Then shoot me. I’m not playing games any longer.”
Her finger twitched on the trigger. The promise she’d made to Ben’s sister made Grace hesitate. If he were dead, then he couldn’t help track down the compound. Therein lie the last head of the hydra.
“You killed Cunningham with your bare hands. I saw you, felt each punch in my soul.” She lowered the rifle. “What I saw in your eyes was the rage and hatred that lives inside me. I know you, Benjamin Graham.”
His expression hardened. “You don’t know shit, lady. I don’t know how you got my sister’s nickname, but I’m done with this conversation.”
He turned and desperation clawed at her gut. “There’s a third Cunningham brother,” she blurted.
Ben stopped and whipped his head around. “What did you say?” His tone was terrifyingly cold.
“There’s a third brother. Your family killed the eldest, right? You just killed the middle one.” She hadn’t planned to reveal all she knew but desperation made her reckless. Something she hated to do, but there was no help for it. “There’s a third brother. He still lives at the compound.”
At the word compound, his nostrils flared and a muscle in his jaw tightened. “How do you know?”
Her laugh was mirthless. “I know because I’m smart and I spent a year finding out everything I could about them. I know because Cunningham bragged about his brother, Dominic, and how they’d both turned their ranch into a million-dollar business.”
Ben moved Paladin toward her slowly, the size and breadth of the man intimidating. His hands were clenched into fists and his expression was terrifyingly blank.
“How do you know?” he repeated, his voice on the ragged edge of rage.
“They killed my husband and burned my ranch, simply because they could. Cunningham used me and left me for dead.” She pulled her collar aside. “See this scar? That’s rope burn from where he choked me while he was attacking me. I wanted him dead. I was this close to exacting my revenge when you took it from me.” Her own voice had turned hoarse.
His gaze flickered to her neck then back to her eyes. “You should be thanking me if I killed the man that did that to you, instead of shooting at me.”
She made a sound, a cross between a growl and a sob. “You’re wrong. They took my son. I can’t find the compound, so I can’t find my son. He’s been with them for a year.” This time a sob did escape. “You took my one chance to find him.”
Ben’s face paled. “Your son?”
“Yes, my son. He was four. Just a baby, and he cried for me as they rode away. Dominic has him and I can’t find him without your help.” She lowered the rifle toward the ground. She ached for the small blonde boy she couldn’t find. Henry was everything she had left and without him, she was lost. “I need to know where the compound is. You’re the only person I know who’s been there that can help me.”
He blinked a few times. “I was ten when I left. I don’t know where it is.”
Her heart slammed against her ribs, a pain she knew too well. “You have to try. I can’t leave him there.”
Ben shook his head. “I can’t help you.”
“That’s a load of horse shit.” She was shouting into the quiet since the forest had become silent around them. Grace would not accept his refusal. “You can help me. You have to help me.”
“No.” He turned the horse to leave. That couldn’t happen.
“I saved your sister’s life and her herd of horses.” She had nothing left to throw at him. “Don’t make me ride to your family’s ranch and enlist her help.”
He paused, his fists clenching. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would do anything I had to.” She would do anything to save her son. No matter who stood in her way. “You leave me no choice.”
Grace took hold of her anger and desperation and squeezed as hard as she could in order to turn away. She’d pinned her hopes on this man, but she’d been wrong about Ben Graham. He wasn’t the person she thought he was, and Grace wasn’t the cold-blooded bitch she wanted to be.
The gelding must’ve sensed her mood because he shook his mane and sidestepped. He was a good horse and could ride for hours without faltering. He’d been her companion since she won him in a card game a year ago, not long after her journey for revenge had begun.
“What’s your horse’s name?” Ben’s voice startled her.
“Jesus, you scared me.” She pressed her palm to her racing heart. “Did you just ask me the horse’s name?” The question seemed ludicrous given their conversation a few moments earlier.
“I did.” He held his hand out for the animal to smell him with a gentleness she didn’t expect.
“I, uh, didn’t give him a name.” She had distanced herself as best she could from anyone and anything that would make her feel. Her emotions were a raw wound without surcease if she didn’t control them.
“That’s too bad. He’s a beauty.” Ben leaned down and spoke soft and low into the horse’s ear. The gelding laid his head against the man’s shoulder and Grace’s brows climbed toward her hairline.
“What the hell are you doing?” She didn’t like being off-balance, especially by a man who refused to help her.
“I think you should call him Swift. He looks like he can run like the wind.” Ben examined the horse as though he was fixing to buy it. He definitely knew what he was doing as he evaluated the gelding. The Grahams were known for their horse flesh and their stock was coveted. It was still the oddest damn thing for him to do.
“I’m not having a conversation with you about my horse.” She tried to push him away, but the man was like an oak tree. Immovable. “I’m leaving. I have to get to the Circle Eight.”
“I’ll help you, but I set the rules.” He kept his voice low and soft, which unnerved her.
“I don’t live by any man’s rules. My husband knew that. You should accept that up front. I might be female, but I refuse to be treated like one.” She bristled at the thought he would try to control her before they took one step in their journey.
“First rule, no questions. Second rule, if you break the first rule, we’re done.” His gaze locked on hers, the blue-green color hard as stone. Ben Graham had lost his soul and all that appeared to be left was a desolate place. She was familiar with the hell of a well of grief so deep, she nearly drowned.
She should be afraid. She should say no and go back home. The problem was she had no home to return to. There was no way to go but forward. And she couldn’t abandon Henry, no matter what it cost her.
Grace held out her hand. “I’ll agree to your rules if you agree to mine.”
“I set the rules,” he repeated.
“Here’s my rule. We don’t stop until we reach the compound.” She waited while he contemplated her hand.
“You’re sending me back to hell.”
She swallowed the scream that threatened to explode from deep inside her. “I’m already there.”