Released Date: January 17th 2014
Modern Battles: Book Three
Dr. Alastair Burrows decides to take a stand after years of escalating abuse by his husband, Cedric Perkins, when he stops Alastair from visiting his brother Grayson after a serious car accident. A few weeks later, Alastair finally escapes his guards, sues for divorce, and begins to openly question Cedric and the pharmaceutical company he runs. As a medical researcher working for Biomedical Inc., Alastair witnessed plenty of dubious practices but had no say. Now he takes a new job with EDT, a company fighting for ethical drug testing, planning to expose Biomedical.
Reinaldo Valverde, intent on stopping drug trafficking, suspects Biomedical is in league with Colombian drug lords. Unable to infiltrate Biomedical, he goes undercover at EDT, hoping to find some leads in their database. Reinaldo meets Alastair and discovers the handsome doctor is also after Biomedical. Reinaldo keeps quiet about his mission, but as Alastair gets closer to the truth, Reinaldo gets closer to Alastair. When they discover Biomedical’s illegal research labs, EDT sends both men on a recognizance mission to Colombia and Brazil.
Lies are revealed, disaster strikes, and they are stranded in the Amazon jungle, facing a fight for survival they cannot afford to lose.
“IS THAT the phone? Really?” Dr. Alastair Burrows rubbed his eyes and glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Just after seven on a Sunday morning, the thing had no business making such an infuriatingly insistent noise. It had been a very late night at yet another of those hateful business dinners his husband insisted he accompany him to, and Alastair deserved his sleep-in.
“You get it.” Cedric’s voice sounded rough and not in the least amused. The tone of command was undeniable, and a sign Alastair’s husband was in one of his moods. They’d gotten more frequent over the past year, and Alastair had become hyperaware of them after one incident when Cedric had hit him because he thought Alastair was interested in another man. Cedric had apologized profusely and professed his love, begging Alastair for another chance. Alastair had agreed, but their relationship had never been the same; he wasn’t even sure he loved Cedric anymore. The man was no longer the loving, caring guy he’d met ten years ago.
“’Kay.” Alastair picked up the receiver, not wanting to aggravate Cedric any further. As usual, he had no idea what had set his husband off, but he wasn’t willing to make things worse despite the fact the call was most likely for Cedric. “Hello? Alastair speaking.”
“Oh, thank God it’s you. I’m really sorry for calling you this early. I know it’s barely morning in Boston, but I couldn’t wait any longer.” Danny McBrae sounded close to hyperventilating.
“Danny, slow down. Take a deep breath.” Alastair paused to get some extra air himself in an attempt to reduce his suddenly spiking heartbeat. What the hell was his brother Grayson’s best friend doing calling him from Oxford, England at such an ungodly hour? It cannot be good news.
“Oh, Alastair, I am so sorry. I don’t even know what to say or do.” Danny sounded close to tears. It wasn’t like him to sound so desperate. “I wish I could tell you in person.”
“What?” Alastair was ready to jump through the phone. He needed to know now.
“It’s Grayson.” Danny sniffled.
“What about Grayson? For heaven’s sake, just tell me.” Alastair went cold with dread. Grayson was his elder brother and meant everything to him. Grayson had practically raised him and their youngest brother, Tom, after their mother died when Alastair was only eight. Grayson was only ten at the time, but he’d been the nurturing influence they needed and weren’t getting from their emotionally cold father, damn him. Their father had never been warm and fuzzy or the father the three boys needed, but after his wife died, he buried himself in his medical research even more and became practically nonexistent for the brothers.
“It’s…. He… he had an accident. In the car as he was driving down to London for the long weekend, to see Tom.” Danny took the breath he should have taken a while ago. “It’s pretty bad.”
“Oh my God.” Alastair sank back into bed, his hands shaking as he held on to the receiver and his head hitting the pillow as he closed his eyes. “Please, no.”
“What the hell is going on?” Cedric’s voice intruded into Alastair’s attempt not to panic completely.
Alastair looked at him briefly, noticed the angry frown as his husband rose from their bed, but shook his head and looked away. He had no time to deal with whatever Cedric’s problem was. With a fleeting thought, he wished Cedric were more understanding, but that just wasn’t in him. Alastair should know this after almost seven years of marriage to the guy. Still, he couldn’t help but wish things were different.
“How did it happen?” Not that knowing would change anything, but Alastair had a sudden need for information. Any information. It would give him time to deal with the real issue: whether Grayson was going to be okay.
“As far as I know, based on what the police officers were able to get from witnesses, the car in front of him braked unexpectedly. Grayson did the same but must have realized he wouldn’t make it. He moved into the faster lane, but a Jeep was moving in on him and hit his car as he was trying to evade it.” Danny sighed. “It was a pretty bad mess, mostly damaged cars, and Grayson was the only one seriously hurt. He’s got heavy bruising on both arms and his right leg and was briefly conscious after they pried him out of the mangled car, but he slipped into a coma last night.”
“Traumatic Brain Injury?” Alastair knew that’s what it must be; he may specialize in pharmaceutical research, but he’d been trained as a doctor. And focusing on the medical side distracted him from the fear welling up inside him. He needed to focus on the facts first; then he’d deal with the rest.
“Yeah. James, his sort-of-boyfriend, you remember him, right?” Danny sounded hopeful.
“Yes, Grayson told me about him.” Alastair hadn’t been impressed with some of the things James, a famous oncologist who moved from Boston to Oxford recently, had done to oppose Grayson’s proposal for a Children’s Hospital. But Grayson had seemed enamored with him on a personal level, so the man couldn’t be all bad.
“James explained it all to us. He’s not a neurologist, but he understands the basics much better than I do. Apparently, they’ve done the proper tests: measuring vital signs and reflexes and completing an initial neurological examination. They took skull and neck X-rays to check for bone fractures and found none.” Danny cleared his throat. “They don’t know why he slipped into the coma, but it isn’t uncommon—or so they say—and they said to hold on and hope for the best for now. He’s expected to wake up on his own.”
“Did they apply the Glasgow Coma Scale?” Alastair held his breath. The scale was a way to assess the depth of someone’s coma using a combination of scores in three areas: eye opening, verbal responses, and motor responses, then combined the results into a single score.
“James said he was a nine, which is a moderate coma.” Danny huffed. “I don’t care what they say though, he looks pale, and I’m scared.”
“I assume they did a CT scan and MRIs?” Alastair trusted Oxford Hospital to do the right thing, but still. They were talking about his brother here, and he felt totally helpless. Living on another continent had helped him deal with his past and build a life removed from the location of his traumatic childhood, but at times like this, when his brothers needed him, it was hard to live so far away from them.
“They completed the scans and have scheduled MRIs for later this morning.” Danny sighed. “All we can do now is wait and hope for the best, but I wanted you to know what’s going on.”
“Thanks, Danny.” Alastair took a deep breath. He knew there was probably nothing he could add to what the treating physicians had already done. But one thing was very clear. His brothers needed him and he wanted to be there for Grayson, so he had only one choice. “I’ll be on the next plane to London.”
Cedric sputtered a protest, but Alastair ignored him. One problem at a time.
“Really? Are you sure?” Danny sounded excited.
“Of course I’m sure. I’ll call you when I’ve made the arrangements.” Alastair rubbed his temple with his free hand. There was a flight to book and a ton of work-related stuff to set in motion so his team knew what they were doing in his absence, but he’d deal with that once he’d had his first cup of coffee.
“Thanks so much. I could do with some more support. Talk to you soon.” Danny ended the call.
Alastair put down the receiver and sighed. Man, what a way to start a Sunday. He looked up to see Cedric completely dressed in navy pants, a light-blue shirt, and a salmon tie. The man never relaxed, never dressed down, and had even brought Alastair to the point where he didn’t wear his favorite pair of jeans and a comfortable shirt. As for sneakers? They were banned in this house and in Alastair’s wardrobe, due to Cedric’s aversion to anything that didn’t look elegant. Cedric’s medium-length blond hair with artfully applied ash tints had been combed back for now. A meticulous grooming was sure to follow.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Cedric’s pale-blue eyes sparked with anger.
“What do you mean what am I doing?” Alastair sat up and leaned against the headboard. He had a feeling he’d need support for the coming discussion.
“That….” Cedric lifted his hand and waved at the landline phone on the nightstand. “What you said on the phone right now.”
“Did you even hear what I’ve been talking about? I know you only heard half of it, but you must have gotten that Grayson is in hospital, in a coma.” Alastair’s voice threatened to falter. “I need to be with him.”
“There’s nothing you can do, you said that yourself.” Cedric fisted his hands. “Grayson is in good hands. That boyfriend of his is a doctor—how much better can it get? You know how much you hate feeling helpless, right?”
Alastair just nodded. He’d been useless long enough when he grew up and left all the worrying to Grayson. But he’d done it. He had taken control of his life when he got a scholarship to Stanford, got his medical degree in record time, then met Cedric while he was working on his PhD. The job offer at Biomedical Inc., Cedric’s company, had been a surprise, but they needed all the research support they could get.
“I don’t think it’ll be good for you to fly to England only to sit at Grayson’s bedside feeling superfluous and unable to help. They’re taking good care of him, I’m sure. There’s nothing you can do.” Cedric narrowed his eyes. “Now, you also know how important next week’s meetings and dinners are. We’re about to take over Tevalex, and I need you here. You’re an essential part of the acquisitions team. Without your brilliance in developing research strategy, I very much doubt they’ll take our offer seriously. So you see, it’s crucial you stay here.”
“I know all that.” Alastair tilted his head, pretending to consider what Cedric was saying. He had only one goal: get on a plane and see his brother. But opposing Cedric openly was a stupid idea. The man had developed into a control freak since they got married, and Alastair knew any opinion different to his would not be welcome. He’d been too immersed in his work to care, but he had noticed how Cedric had taken over his life, managing everything from their money to determining the best spots for vacations. Alastair had welcomed it since it gave him more time with his projects. But ever since last year and the hitting incident, he’d begun to doubt their marriage was salvageable. And now, as he tried to resist one of Cedric’s opinions for the first time, the opposition was formidable.
“Well?” Cedric stepped closer. Patience was not one of his strengths.
“You’re right.” Alastair needed a plan. He had to figure out how to get his passport from the safe, where to find money, and how to book a flight without Cedric noticing. Shit, this is bad.
“Of course I am.” Cedric smiled, showing perfect white teeth. He held out a hand. “Now that we’re agreed, let’s get ready to meet the Milfords for brunch.”
Alastair nodded, only holding back a groan with a major effort. He hated the stuffy older couple, but they were important social influences, and Cedric was nothing if not status-conscious. Having brunch with them would ensure another appearance in the society column and feed Cedric’s need to be seen as a major mover and shaker.
Meanwhile, all Alastair wanted to do, now that he’d truly awoken to the reality of his life and accepted it, was run as fast and as far as possible.
FIVE DAYS later Alastair was absolutely frantic. Grayson was still in a coma, Cedric had hidden the passports somewhere other than the safe, and the man never left his side unless they were at work. Security was strict, and Alastair had the distinct impression the security staff were watching him too. The stress was getting to him, and he knew he was about to lose it big time. This madness had to stop. Unless Cedric respected Alastair’s wishes and let him go, their marriage was over. The only reason Alastair still hesitated was the fear of Cedric hurting him. His husband was half a foot taller than Alastair’s own measly five ten, and a lot more muscular.
Alastair sat at his desk in the office and brooded. Maybe it was safer to confront Cedric here? At least there were other people around, and Cedric wouldn’t do anything really bad. He hoped. Then he sighed as he shut off the computer. He’d been staring at the screen for the last half-hour, trying to understand the reports coming in from their experimental lab in Brazil. Nothing made sense.
He leaned back in his chair and stretched his tired muscles back into life. The fact that he needed to take Cedric becoming violent into consideration confirmed that it was over. He wasn’t ready to become a battered spouse any more than he had already. All that mattered was him getting away without being hurt physically. Emotionally, he was already a mess.
Slowly he rose, got his briefcase, and left. On the way to Cedric’s office, he encountered several of his colleagues on their way into the weekend, as well as the ubiquitous security guards who seemed to be following him everywhere. Finally he arrived at Cedric’s door and knocked since the secretary had already left. It was after six and high time for everyone else to head for home as well.
“Come in.” Cedric’s voice sounded muffled through the thick wooden door.
Alastair opened the door and walked inside. Cedric sat behind his oversized oak desk like a king. A stack of paperwork sat in his outbox, the computer was still on, and the flat-screen TV on the wall had some sort of business news scroll across the bottom of the screen while a muted news anchor talked about whatever the economy was up to now.
“Hey.” Cedric smiled.
“We need to talk.” Alastair sat on the couch in the visitor area and put his briefcase next to him on the floor. He refused to sit in the chair opposite Cedric’s desk and feel like a little boy called into the principal’s office.
“We do? What, all the way over there?” Cedric raised both eyebrows.
Alastair nodded, focusing on suppressing the nervous shivers racing up and down his spine. He clasped his hands in his lap so the shaking wouldn’t show.
Cedric got up, walked around the desk, and sat next to Alastair. He pursed his lips as if he’d bitten into something sour, clearly unhappy the discussion wasn’t taking place where he’d wanted it. The longer Alastair observed him with a little more detachment than he’d had in the years of their marriage, the clearer it became. Cedric was a territorial, controlling jerk.
“I’ll come right to the point.” Alastair sat up straight, took a deep breath, and went for it. “You may not have asked how Grayson is doing, but I’ve spoken to Danny and Tom a few times, and he’s not doing well. It’s been almost a week, and the doctors say he could wake up any time. I want to be there when that happens.”
“And if he doesn’t wake up while you’re there?” Cedric smirked. “You’ll have wasted all that time on a trip that’s completely pointless. Your place is here, at my side, and I resent the fact that I have to repeat myself. We’ve had this discussion, and I believe I made myself clear.”
“What we had was not a discussion. You told me your wishes and expected me to fall into step with you.” Alastair’s frustration rose by the second.
“Of course. I know what’s best for you, and the past ten years should have shown it to you. Everything I did to support your career was done with you in mind.” Cedric shook his head. “Why can’t you see that?”
“I can’t see it because it isn’t true.” Alastair shook with anger. “What you have done was mostly in your interest. Yes, my career did well, but on the whole, the only real beneficiary is Biomedical. Your company.”
“Why, you ungrateful….” Cedric jumped up and lifted his arm to point at Alastair. “You’ll take that back.”
“No.” Alastair forced himself not to cringe. “I want to see Grayson. I don’t care what else is happening or whether you need me or not. Those business meetings can be rescheduled. Grayson’s life is in danger, and he’s my family. That is far more important than anything going on here.”
“No.” Cedric shook his head and remained standing, probably trying to intimidate Alastair with his size. “I can’t let you leave.”
“Is that why you hid the passports?” Alastair frowned.
“I didn’t hide them; I made sure they’re safe.” Cedric grinned.
“They were perfectly fine in the safe.” Alastair shrugged. “Not that it matters. I want my passport, and I will fly to England.”
“No, you won’t.” Cedric stepped closer and bent down. “I am your husband and I have a say in what you do.”
“What?” Alastair remained right where he was, refusing to show fear. This was the last straw. Cedric was trying to run his life, which was all fine as long as they’d agreed on what they wanted. Now that Alastair was asserting himself, Cedric’s true colors showed. No way could Alastair allow the man to run his life. He was his own man, and as much as he’d once loved Cedric, those feelings had dribbled away and were no longer relevant. “You leave me no choice, then. I want a divorce.”
“Never!” Cedric’s face turned into a mask of fury. “I’ll give you a divorce over my dead body!”
Alastair blinked. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a fist coming at him. It hit him before he could so much as raise a finger. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.