An hour later, they boarded his private jet at Dulles International Airport. Colton Mitus and Maverick’s father, Warren Hott, were seated.

   Colton, CEO of Mitus Conglomerate, had a brilliant mind. Normally reserved and stoic, there was no denying the concern in his eyes. Ashton’s cocky, bold, larger-than-life personality seemed to be the glue that kept these men together.

   Worry lined Warren’s face, his eyes red from crying. Her heart broke. He looked so damn scared.

   Both men rose to hug her.

   “Thanks for the call,” Colton said to Sinclair. “What do you know?”

   Sinclair placed a hand on his shoulder. “Give me five with the pilots, unless you want to fly this bird.”

   “I’m in no condition to pilot anything.”

   Silence hung heavy, the atmosphere thick with tension, as they taxied to the runway.

   Once airborne, the flight attendant took their drink orders. Sinclair perked up, the familiar twinkle in his eyes returning when he glimpsed her long legs. Carly bit back a smile. This would have made Ashton laugh out loud while he encouraged his friend to take care of his personal business with her after the plane touched down. But Carly was confident that if she hadn’t been there, and Ashton had, both men would be vying for that flight attendant’s personal attention.

   A moment later, the attendant returned with their drinks. Carly needed something strong to numb the shock, so she tossed back a whiskey, welcoming the burn. Only after the alcohol had calmed her palpitating heart did she ask for the rest of the story.

   “Warren, how are you holding up?”

   Ashton’s dad didn’t fake it where she was concerned. “I can’t lose him, Carly.”

   Her heart stuttered, the pain reverberating through her. “He’ll pull through.” For his sake, she tried smiling. “Can you talk about what happened?”

   He patted her hand. “Of course.” He regarded the two men sitting across from him. “Thanks for dropping everything. I know you both have a lot going on. In fact, I got your save-the-date wedding announcement, Colton. I look forward to the big event.”

   “Thank you, Warren,” Colton said. “Tell us what you know.”

   “Penelope called me. Both he and Gunner were hit. Gunner’s in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the chest that punctured his right lung. It would have been fatal if he hadn’t been wearing his vest.” Warren cleared his throat. “From what she explained—though I kinda blanked out—they’d gotten the hostages out. Gunner was down. When Ashton returned to get him out, he got sprayed with gunfire.”

   “Oh, no,” Carly whispered.

   Colton shook his head. “Jesus, no.”

   Pausing, Warren’s lip quivered and he stared out the window.

   Carly shifted her attention to Sinclair. With raised eyebrows, she pleaded with him to step in and say something—anything—but he shook his head and remained silent.

   After a moment, Warren continued. “Penelope flew the copter out of enemy space and landed. Both men were triaged on site, then flown to a hospital in Frankfurt. Emergency surgery for both. Like I said, Gunner is in stable condition. She said Ash is in and out of consciousness. Shrapnel was removed from his leg, but the Flak jacket couldn’t stop a bullet from entering his back. If he makes it, the doctors aren’t sure if he’ll be able to walk.”

   And that’s when Carly lost it. On a gasp, she pushed out of the seat and rushed toward the restroom tucked in the back of the plane. Ducking inside, she sobbed. He can’t die. He just can’t.

   When she’d been in second grade, her family had moved to northern Virginia. That first week she felt lost and alone, but when Ashton plunked down beside her at lunch, he made her laugh. At recess, she challenged him to a race. Back then, she was fast enough to beat him. The day he stepped forward to be her friend was one of the best days of her life.

   Determined to stay strong for his sake, Carly wiped her eyes and returned to her seat.

   “You okay?” Sinclair asked.

   She nodded.

   “This is tough.” Warren offered a sad smile before addressing Sinclair. “When we bring Desiree and Hudson, I’ll need you with me, son.”

   “I’ll be with you every step of the way, Dad.”

   The eight-hour flight featured two movies, neither of which Carly watched. She sat in numbed silence, rearranging her stackable rings. At one point, she dropped one, but couldn’t find it. Colton plucked it from under his seat and handed it to her.

   “He’s a fighter,” he said, though his eyes were tight with worry. “He’ll pull through.”

   “He has to,” she whispered.

   Colton and Sinclair spoke quietly for over an hour. And then, Colton and Warren slept. In the darkened cabin, Sinclair retreated to the back. Thirty minutes later, he returned, a smile hovering on the corners of his mouth.

   Her smirk elicited a wink from him. Though never attracted to him, she could see how women would be. He was handsome, wicked smart, and powerful. In addition to their bad-boy reputations, he and Ashton were emotionally unavailable, so women flocked to them.

   Sinclair had helped her navigate through a time in her life when her sexual fetish had reached a crossroads. Not only had he pointed her in the right direction, he had given his heartfelt guidance when she’d needed it most.

   Though she never told him how she really felt about Ashton, she had every confidence he knew that, too. Nothing got past Sinclair Develin.

   Nothing.

   Lucky for her, Sinclair kept all her secrets.

   “Is he going to die?” she whispered.

   “He fucking better not,” Sinclair replied.

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