Protected in Darkness (An In Darkness Novella)

Four years ago, Charley Packstone was hopelessly stuck in a miserable life as the daughter of the thug running Kentucky’s deadliest outlaw motorcycle gang and the twin sister to the gang’s future leader.

As Kate Ward, she’s built a simple but lonely life for herself and her four-year-old daughter inside the Witness Protection Program.

Kate has rules—rules to keep her and her daughter hidden from the wrath of the motorcycle club that wants her dead. But one fateful night, she lets her guard down after meeting a handsome stranger—Navy Seal Colt Callaway—at a bar along the Virginia Beach boardwalk. And after a sexy one-night-stand, Colt resolves to penetrate the steep walls that protect Kate’s heart.

A dead rat left on Kate’s front porch the next morning sends a clear message: the biker gang she ratted out years ago has finally found her.

No matter how badly Colt believes he can save the troubled and beautiful woman he just met, Kate’s only choice is to grab her daughter and vanish under a fresh identity. But can she do it before someone close to her is killed? And can she truly say goodbye to Colt forever?

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Protected in Darkness - Chapter One - Kate

Chapter 1 – Kate

Kate Ward stuffed the new wig, a baseball cap, and a change of clothes inside Sarah’s go bag. Her four-year-old daughter was growing so fast that she constantly had to change out supplies in case they needed to make a quick exit from their life in Virginia Beach. 

“What are you doing, Mommy?” Sarah asked from the doorway of her bedroom. 

“Oh, nothing, sweetie. Come here.” She motioned for her daughter to have a seat on the edge of Sarah’s bed. After Sarah snuggled into Kate’s hug, Kate asked, “You sure you want to stay all night with Ashton?”

“Mommmmyyyy,” Sarah moaned in her sweet little voice. She angled her head and grinned up at Kate. “I’m four years old. I’m old enough to spend the night with my best friend.”

Kate smoothed her daughter’s hair, then kissed the top of her head. “You’re right.” But Kate wasn’t ready to let her daughter grow up just yet. And any separation made her nervous. She couldn’t afford to make a mistake. Not where her daughter was concerned. “Grab your stuff and go get in the car. I’ll be right there.” She also couldn’t afford to make choices out of fear that was mostly in her head.

Sarah skipped out of the room singing. Kate grabbed the go bag and stuffed it back into the top of Sarah’s closet.

With a hand on the bag, she took a minute to remember her old life—her life as Charley Packstone, daughter of the president of Samael’s Army, an outlaw motorcycle gang headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. She said goodbye to that life long ago, and though she mourned the memories of a childhood that she could never talk about, she was thankful her daughter would never know that life or the people in it.

Her life was definitely complicated, but she did everything she could to keep Sarah’s life simple and happy while being prepared for anything.

For today, her daughter would enjoy time with her best friend, and Kate would go off to work. That’s when it dawned on her. She’d been trying all week to get out of going to a bachelorette party tonight for one of her female co-workers. Now she wouldn’t have an excuse. 

However, a party just might be the thing to take her mind off of her daughter being gone and the fact that she was still paranoid enough after all these years to keep their go bags updated.

Protected in Darkness - Chapter Two - Gray

Chapter 2 – Gray

Gray Packstone was in prison, serving several life sentences with no chance of parole. He’d come to accept that the likelihood of him breathing clean air away from this pile of concrete and metal was slim. Gray also knew every single person who played a part in putting him behind these bars, and he dreamed of getting revenge on them all.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, he leaned into his foot, which was planted on a bench during his very little outside time, and stared at the photograph his mom slipped him when she visited yesterday. A photograph of just one of the people who had ratted him out. 

He’d been studying it since he’d received it. The picture was blurry. And her hair was different. Not to mention his twin sister was supposed to be dead.

But it was definitely her. “Charley Packstone, among the living.” Gray said. At least that was according to the timestamp in the lower right corner of the photograph. A convict to Gray’s right looked his way as if he hadn’t heard Gray, but didn’t dare ask him to repeat it. Gray had quickly become one to fear within the prison walls.

In the photograph, Charley knelt in front of a kid and appeared to be zipping up her coat. Mom wasn’t sure if the ankle-biter was Charley’s, and, as far as Gray could tell, Mom showed no sign of any kind of motherly or grandmotherly instinct in how fast she handed over Charley’s whereabouts to him.

Receiving the photo of Charley only sped up Gray’s desire to put into motion the revenge plot he began organizing the moment the federal court handed down his multiple life sentences. Now, he’d get justice on his dear sister for her mortal sin of betrayal.

As if on cue, a guard—Officer Moody—headed in Gray’s direction. He was a big motherfucker, and his name fit him. Though guards weren’t armed inside the facility, inmates didn’t mess with this particular guard. Ever.

When he got closer, he shoved Gray’s leg off of the bench. “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners? Don’t put your feet on the furniture.”

This guard would be surprised at what Gray’s mother taught him.

Inmates scattered until no one was close enough to hear what Officer Moody said next.

“It’s done. Your pal Jake received a knife three knee deep.”

Gray put his best tough guy face on while making eye contact with Officer Moody. “So, he’ll live?”

“For as long as you want him to.”

“Good.” He shoved the photograph into his chest. “Have someone show him this. See if he knew my sister had a kid. Report back how he reacts, then finish him off.” Was Jake the father of Charley’s kid? She—the kid—was the right age. And it was clear by the picture of the two of them that the child in the photo belonged to his sister. The brat looked just like Charley. It would be the ultimate revenge to show Jake that Charley had kept a child from him just before offing him. Gray saw Jake as another backstabber, betraying Gray months before the FBI raided the drug lab.

Officer Moody grabbed Gray’s wrist and twisted his arm, forcing him to turn and fall to his knees. “Don’t put your hands on me, inmate. And you will watch your mouth, boy,” he said loudly enough for many to hear, and created a believable show for the other prisoners. “You think you’re in charge here? You’ll never be in charge of anything ever again.” He shoved Gray to the ground, then turned and left.

By the time Gray was standing again, one of his cellmates sidled up beside him. “Someone should teach Officer Moody a lesson.”

Gray watched as Officer Moody placed the photograph of his sister in his breast pocket and disappeared through the prison doorway. “Yeah. Someone should.”

Protected in Darkness - Chapter Three - Colt

Chapter 3 – Colt

“What the hell, Filly?” Buck finally caught up to Colt Callaway as they finished a four-mile run.

“Don’t you know, Filly?” Frog asked, laughing and out of breath as he brought up the rear. “You’re supposed to let Buck win.”

Both Frog and Buck bent over at the waist and placed both hands on their knees while trying to catch their breath.

“Oh, that was a race?” Colt asked. “Had I known, I would have run faster.” He laughed, barely out of breath. 

Colt was the newest member of the SEAL team stationed near San Diego, California with Bill Wingate—Buck—and Frederick Evans—Frog. The other members—Dutch, Pip, Rum, and Rebel—had completed their mandatory four-mile run the previous day and were finishing up other training exercises before a group of them was leaving for a long weekend break. Not that they truly ever got a break. They could get a call at any time, and be sent on a mission for the US Navy, but for this weekend, the powers to be would have to call them in Virginia Beach. Their friend and former Army Ranger Wasp—Damon Martin—and his wife were meeting them there for a long weekend of relaxation and fun.

“Frog,” Buck said. “Did you see that chick that Colt had a drink with last night?”

“Darla? Oh yeah, I saw her.” Frog grinned. “Legend has it that Darla’s been hanging out in that bar for years, trying to land herself a Navy SEAL.”

“It was one drink.” Colt laughed as he stretched his calves and hamstrings. He had no interest in Darla, the SEAL slayer that would give even Buffy the Vampire Slayer a run for her money. Besides, Colt had no interest in meeting a prospective girlfriend in a bar where girls came to “land themselves a SEAL.” On the other hand, he wouldn’t mind meeting someone that understood what he did for a living—someone he could come home to after a difficult mission.

“That’s not what we heard,” Buck said and traded a grin with Frog. 

Colt waved them off. “You two are just angry you couldn’t keep up with me today.” He started to turn and walk away when Buck continued.

“My lovely bride says Darla plans to marry you.” Buck and Frog laughed harder. “She also says that Darla thinks you’re the prettiest boy she’s ever seen. She wants you to do things to her that no other man has ever done. To ride her like a stallion.” Buck and Frog made full-body gestures, a sort of sign language for the “things” Darla wanted.

“That’s right, pretty boy,” Frog taunted. “Apparently, you’ve fooled Darla. But don’t worry. You’re still our little filly.”

“Fuck off! Both of you!”

They laughed harder.

Buck, Frog, and the rest of the unit had already decided that he was just too pretty to call by his real name, so they began calling him Filly. It was humiliating, but what was more humiliating was not being able to have a drink in a bar with a woman without his entire team making it into something that it definitely wasn’t. And if it had been something, Colt wouldn’t want his team talking about a woman he was interested in that way, no matter her past.

Frog punched Colt playfully in the shoulder. “You’re gonna have to learn to take a joke, Filly.”

He decided to let the Darla thing go. Colt was just in a weird place when it came to dating. “I will as soon as you both learn to lose a race. You’re both slow. And sore losers.”

“He’s right on both accounts,” Buck agreed, then changed the subject. “On to more important matters. Knight texted. Says we’ve gotta be at the airport in two hours if we’re gonna make our flight.”

“Don’t remind me,” Frog whined. “Flying commercial is the worst.”

Buck laughed. “And she already talked to Wasp and Macy. They reserved a room at JK Shuckers Raw and Sports Bar for tomorrow night. They’re already in Virginia Beach and excited for us to join them.”

“That’s the UK-Duke game,” Colt said, referring to the Sweet Sixteen matchup of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.

“Yes, but we better act like the women with us mean way more than some stupid game,” Frog said.

“I guess there are times when it’s nice to be single,” Colt said, but he didn’t really believe it.

Frog and Buck traded another look, then laughed.

“Nah,” Buck said. “My Knight will be rooting for the Cats all the way, and will be perfectly fine with me doing the same. And after the game? I’ll have someone warm to curl up next to in that big hotel bed.”

He had a point, Colt thought.

“Well, all I know,” Frog said, “is that Wasp planned a good time for us, and we’re going to enjoy a nice, long weekend on the beach. Even if the temperatures are on the cool side, it’s still the beach.”

“What about tonight?” Colt asked. “We doing anything?”

“You’re on your own,” Frog said. “My girl Brooklyn made me promise we’d have some time for just the two of us. I promised her a night out and a long walk on the beach.”

“Knight, too,” Buck said. “We’ve got reservations.”

Colt nodded. He was actually more than okay with that. He liked and respected his new teammates, but he appreciated his alone time when he could get it.

* * *

Colt walked the beach that evening after an amazing seafood dinner of freshly caught grouper and peel-and-eat shrimp. Being March, the weather was unpredictable and had turned cold within hours after arriving. Snow was in the forecast for the next day. 

With the time change from California to Virginia Beach, he was wired, but he was also thankful for the time alone. 

While his teammates were off on their own with their wives or girlfriends, Colt headed up the boardwalk to look for a bar showing the March Madness games. He found a small sports bar right on the beach. Most people were sitting around high-top tables, drinking beer, and watching the games.

He found his own seat at the bar and ordered a local microbrew. The bartender served his beer about the same time a gaggle of women to his left erupted in laughter—women who didn’t look the least bit interested in basketball.

With his beer in hand, he turned and eyed the festive table. By the looks of the gifts being opened by a woman with a veil on her head, it was some sort of bachelorette party. Out of a white bag with white tissue, the woman pulled something red that looked like nothing more than a few of pieces of lace held together by even less elastic.

Colt lifted his brows as the girls screamed and laughed and talked about what the young bride was supposed to do with the tiny piece of lingerie. That was when his eyes found one particular woman. She was sitting at the opposite end of the table from the bride. And though she was smiling, she looked… uncomfortable. Sad, even. 

He took a swig of beer, and for the next twenty minutes he shifted from watching Gonzaga playing North Carolina to the attractive blonde with a warm smile but sad eyes. Her face lit up briefly when Gonzaga pulled ahead, and her shoulders slumped when North Carolina took the lead again. Was she a Gonzaga fan, or just rooting against North Carolina?

When the bride-to-be was served a Blow Job shot, Colt almost felt sorry for her. She was obviously already drunk and didn’t need any more liquor.

He got caught up in the last few minutes of the game and didn’t even notice when the blonde with sad eyes sat beside him at the bar. When he finally did notice her, she was holding her wallet in front her. 

The bartender approached. “Hey, Kate.”

“Hi, Barney.” She handed him a couple of hundred dollar bills. “Put this toward their tab.”

“Look at you, big spender.”

“Uh… no. Not from me. A gift from Trip.”

“You got it.” Barney took the money from her, and Colt found himself wondering who Trip was. A boyfriend, maybe? Husband? “Can I get you anything else?” Barney asked. “On the house.”

She—Kate—thought about it, and Colt stopped short of closing his eyes and praying she would stay and have a drink beside him. He had no idea where it had come from, but the desire to learn something about the woman sitting beside him was great. 

“You know, I would love a Tito’s and cranberry with a lime.”

“How about you?” Barney pointed to Colt. “You want another?”

Colt lifted his bottle, checking the contents. “Sure. Thanks.” He shifted his body slightly in Kate’s direction. “Is that short for something?” Colt asked, then clarified. “Kate.”

She eyed him slowly, letting several beats pass before she answered. “No.”

Colt leaned back slightly at the cool response. “Well, Kate’s a lovely name.”

She lifted a single brow. When Barney placed the drink in front of her, she gently squeezed the lime into the vodka and cranberry juice.

“It’s not a lovely name?” Colt asked when Kate didn’t respond favorably.

“It’s an okay name, I suppose,” she said as if it wasn’t hers or she was indifferent to her own name.

“Are you from here?” Colt asked.

“Why?” She lifted her drink to her lips, not even turning to him this time.

Colt smiled. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t usually care to make casual conversation with people I don’t plan on seeing ever again, but I noticed you across the room, and for some reason I find myself wanting to know something about you.”

Kate paused mid-drink, then slowly sat her drink back on the bar. She pulled another couple of dollars from her wallet and threw them on the bar, tipping the bartender even though he’d said the drink was on the house. My best guess? She was a bartender or waitress and knew the importance of good tips. 

“Thanks, Barney,” she called before grabbing her drink and moving to slide off the barstool.

“Was it something I said?” Colt asked.

“Kate!” a woman in a sequined top and pencil-thin jeans screamed as she threw an arm around Kate’s neck. “Where’d you go?” The woman slid a droopy-eyed gaze toward Colt. “What do we have here?” She looked from Colt to Kate. “Were you…” She dipped her chin, and grinned at Kate. “Kate Ward… were you just picking up on this man? Very nice,” she slurred, while nodding with a huge smile. “He’s hot,” she said directly to Kate in a loud whisper that everyone in a ten-foot radius could have heard.

This woman was obviously hammered. And Kate Ward–he made mental note of her name—was having a drink of her own. Colt couldn’t stop himself from wondering how they were all getting home.

Nope, he decided quickly, not his problem. 

“Alli, my friend, you’re drunk,” Kate said. “Let me get you an Uber.” After setting her drink back on the bar, she pulled her phone from her back pocket and began pressing buttons. 

The rest of the ladies at the table were standing and gathering the gifts for the bride. 

“I’ll call a couple of cabs,” Barney said from behind the bar.

“Thanks, Barney,” Kate said while helping her friend back toward the table.

Another of the ladies stumbled as she stood. Colt set his beer on the bar and ran to steady her before she fell. 

“Oh, dear,” the woman said. “It’s been a while since I’ve stood up.” She laughed. “I think I had one too many.”

Colt laughed, then looked over at Kate. “How about I help these lovely ladies get outside to their cabs?”

“Oh.” She looked surprised, but then realized that her friends were more drunk than she’d realized. “That would be nice. Thank you.”

After about ten minutes of the women gathering their things and making trips to the ladies’ room, Colt helped lead the partygoers out of the bar and to the parking lot. Once everyone was in a cab or an Uber, Kate and Colt were the only two left standing.

Colt eyed Kate more closely. She was wearing tight leather-like pants and a cropped jacket that she was trying to pull closed. It had gotten colder during the time he’d been in the bar. She wore a pair of three-inch heels that put her just below his chin, which was about the perfect height for him, he noted.

“Thank you for helping. I didn’t realize how much everyone had had to drink.” She laughed, and even though she had spoken tersely before, she wasn’t now. “They ought to feel that tomorrow.”

“Yet you seem fine.”

She eyed him. “Yeah… well… I didn’t have nearly as much as they did. Thanks again.” 

She turned toward the parking lot instead of back toward the bar, and Colt still found himself panicking slightly, which was highly unusual for him. She was beautiful, there was no question about that, and it was cute the way she had been keeping tabs on the game while pretending to be involved with the bachelorette party. But there was something else about her that drew him in. At first he had thought it was the sadness in her eyes, but there was more, hidden just under the surface. And he was determined to find out what it was.

“You wouldn’t want to go back in and finish that drink, would you?”

She turned, hesitated for a few beats. A breeze picked up her blonde hair and blew it across her face.

“One drink,” he said, hoping to persuade her. 

She looked out toward the parking lot, then back at him. Colt could see the uncertainty on her face and the internal argument she was having with herself.

“Fine,” she finally said. “Under one condition.”

“Name it,” Colt said.

“We talk about nothing personal. And this goes no further than one drink.”

Colt considered the fact that he was only in Virginia Beach for a few days and the fact that he was in no position to start a relationship with someone living clear across the country and who probably had no clue what it truly meant that he was a SEAL. “Fine. Nothing personal.” But he couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t go beyond one drink.

A Note from Heather:

Protected in Darkness is a special release novella — a standalone, spinoff story and sequel to Cut in DarknessProtected in Darkness is my answer to the many, many readers who have asked what happened to Charley Packstone after the end of Cut in Darkness. This story was originally released inside another author’s Kindle World. When rights reverted to me, I made the necessary changes to make this story 100% mine and the perfect addition to the In Darkness series. Sign up for the newsletter to hear the moment this book is live and ready for download.

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