Home > The Protector (Game of Chance #1)

The Protector (Game of Chance #1)
Author: Susan Stoker


Jackson “JJ” Justice closed his eyes and breathed shallowly through his nose, praying the pain would lessen. But it was a futile prayer. Their captors delighted in causing as much agony as they could.

Opening his eyes, JJ squinted to see his best friends and teammates chained to the walls around him. Riggs “Chappy” Chapman had his head resting against the cinder block wall and his eyes closed. He wasn’t asleep, JJ knew that without a doubt. No one slept in this hellhole. Not really.

Kendric “Bob” Evans was next to Chappy, staring over at their fourth teammate with grave concern.

Turning his attention to Callum “Cal” Redmon, JJ frowned. He had just been brought back to their cell after a “session” with their captors, and he didn’t look good at all. The assholes holding them hostage were thrilled when they’d realized his identity. Cal was an actual prince.

And as Cal had often said, the title itself was actually more exciting than reality, considering a couple dozen of his relatives would have to be killed or die before he came anywhere close to becoming king.

But that didn’t matter to the terrorists. They’d focused on Cal almost from the second the team had all been dragged unconscious into this cell. Currently, he was dripping from too many cuts on his body to count. He wore only a pair of boxers, making it easy to see just how horrible his latest torture session had been.

Their captors had focused on marring Cal’s formerly pristine flesh, using knives, cigarettes, and who the hell knew what else to carve into his skin. They used their fists on his face but preferred various torture implements for the rest of his body.

The men who’d captured them didn’t have an ounce of compassion, of course. When they’d tortured JJ, they’d laughed and jeered with every punch as their knives sliced into his skin. To their jailers, he and his teammates were less than human.

Looking around at his best friends, the three men who were literally his reason for continuing to fight to stay alive, JJ made an easy decision.

“When we get out of here, I’m done,” he said fervently. His voice was low so as not to alert their captors that they were awake and talking. He knew keeping the four of them chained in the same room—so each could see the torture the others were enduring—was part of the sick mind game the assholes were playing.

Little did they know, keeping them together only strengthened his team rather than making them weaker.

When no one spoke, JJ went on. “I’m serious. We all knew this mission was doomed from the very start. We didn’t have the backup we should’ve, the intel was practically nonexistent, and when we expressed our concerns, we were told to shut up and follow orders.” He huffed a quiet laugh. “And look where those orders got us. I’m done. I’m out. I didn’t sign up for this. To fight for my country, yes. But to sit in my own shit, getting beaten, having to watch my friends get tortured . . . and on top of it all, being filmed for the insurgents’ agenda? No. Just fuckin’ no.”

JJ had never wanted to be the leader of their group. As the oldest, and not one who suffered fools easily, he kind of fell into the role. But he’d screwed up. He should’ve been firmer in his insistence that this mission was destined to fail. Should’ve pushed for more intelligence before they entered the country.

While he had no doubt the US government was working to get them released, everyone knew the policy was not to negotiate with terrorists. They were likely on their own until they could find a way to escape—which wasn’t looking very promising—or one of their fellow Special Forces teams came in to bust them out.

“If you’re out, I’m out too,” Bob said with a grimace. “If you think I’m staying in without you, you’re insane.”

“Well, I’m not staying without either of you guys,” Chappy agreed. His words were garbled from the last beating he’d received, but his support for getting out of the military was heard loud and clear.

The three men looked over at Cal.

He took a deep breath and immediately grimaced at the pain it caused. One of his eyes was swollen shut, and the man the media had once called “Prettymon” looked anything but at the moment. The terrorists had left their mark on his flesh. If he lived through this—if any of them lived through their captivity—he’d have visible reminders of his torture every time he looked in a mirror.

“What’ll we do then?” Cal asked. His words were slow and slurring, making him hard to understand.

“Anything we fucking want,” Chappy answered. “But I’m not living in a city.”

“Well, I’m not living in a fucking suburb,” Bob retorted.

“As long as I’m not in a cell, chained to a wall, I don’t give a shit where we live,” Cal slurred.

“Rochambeau,” JJ decided.



“What the bloody hell is that?”

“Rock paper scissors. To decide where we’ll live,” he answered. Under the circumstances, it seemed ridiculous to decide where to put down roots once they were out of the military. Especially with a child’s game. But they all needed to think about something besides how much pain they were in . . . and when their captors would be back to inflict more.

“Sounds good to me,” Chappy said.

“Shouldn’t we decide what we’re gonna do for a living before we figure out where to live?” Bob asked.

“Nope,” JJ said with a shake of his head, warming up to the idea of making plans for their future. There was probably less than a fifty percent chance they’d even have a future, but right now, they needed to focus on something positive. “We can’t decide to be taxi drivers and then make the decision to move to some rural town with one stoplight. First, we figure out where we want to live, then we’ll settle on some kind of business to open.”

He waited for his friends to agree, then continued. “So, everyone think of where you want to live when we get back to the States. Somewhere you’ve always wanted to settle down. A place that calls to you. Then I’ll Rochambeau Chappy, and Cal and Bob will play. The winner of each round plays the other. Whoever’s left standing at the end decides where we live. Deal?”

Bob and Cal nodded.

A burst of laughter left Chappy’s lips. “We all know this is crazy, right?” he asked. “I mean, we’re about to decide on our future—a future with a high probability of never coming to fruition, considering where we are at the moment—with a game of chance.”

“Why not?” Bob asked. “You got somewhere else you need to be right now? Some other plans?”

“Well, you know, I had a hot date with this chick, but I suppose I can stay and play kids’ games with you guys instead.”

All four men chuckled quietly at that.

JJ was well aware the odds of getting out of their current situation weren’t good. But having something to look forward to could only help them in the long run. “Okay, Chappy and I will go first,” JJ said. “You ready? You got a place in mind?”


“Me too. Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three!”

JJ held his hand out flat, indicating paper, while Chappy made a fist.

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