I wouldn’t have described myself as lonely before. There was an uncomplicated beauty in living alone and having every part of my life regimented. Due to my years of training to be invisible, it was easier to be alone. But I couldn’t deny that a part of me was awakening being around Diana. She didn’t ask for much from me other than my company, and she made me feel that was a gift. I’d puzzled over it for days before realizing that she simply liked me as I was. What a revelation.

So when I finally got the details from Matthias about Diana’s ex-boyfriend, there was no question of how I’d handle it. When we’d met, she’d been scared and hurt, and no amount of time would erase that image from my mind. For a man like me, there was only one thing to do when someone I cared about was in danger.

Eliminate the threat.

I shook my head. I couldn’t kill the guy. After years being in ORUS, and to a lesser degree the FBI, it was hard to shed their kill first, ask questions later mentality. But I was transitioning back into a civilian. This was what I’d always wanted and what I’d bargained so hard for. I couldn’t do anything to jeopardize my chance to live freely again, so I would have to step carefully.

But just because I couldn’t kill the guy didn’t mean I couldn’t take care of the problem. By the time I was done, Corbin James would never even look askance at another woman. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t pissing into a bag.

I parked on the street behind the house and walked through the back neighbor’s yard to a small copse of trees right behind the house. According to Matthias, Mr. James had a dog. I had never had one, but the little I knew about them included how often they needed to be taken outside, which would give me the opportunity I needed. I glanced at my watch and waited patiently. Ten minutes later, a man stepped out onto the back porch with a puppy on a leash.

Moving quickly, I scooped up the dog, jerked the leash from James’s hand, and deposited the pup inside the house, closing the door behind it. The dog didn’t even bark, just pressed its little face against the glass, observing me curiously.

“Some guard dog you’ve got there,” I commented as I turned around.

The other man backed up, his eyes darting nervously between me and the back door.

“What the hell, man? Who are you?”

I punched him in the gut and then cradled him on his way down to the ground. “I’m the guy who is going to kick your ass.”

Corbin wheezed, in too much pain to even scream. I had hit him right in the lung, so he wouldn’t be breathing normally for a while. Plenty of time for us to have a talk.

Well, for me to talk and for Corbin to listen.

“Get away, help!” The soft scream was cut off when I grabbed him by the throat. I enjoyed the man’s look of terror. Was that how Diana had felt when this asshole had kicked her in the ribs? Had he stalked her around this house, letting her feel the terror of being hunted before he’d hurt her? The thought of her being scared and helpless enraged me, and my hand tightened around the other man’s throat. The gurgling below me was the only thing that prompted me to loosen my grip.

Don’t kill him.

“Is that her dog?” I glanced back at the house as the thought occurred to me. That seemed like the kind of thing that Diana would have talked about. She was such a gentle spirit—I couldn’t imagine her leaving a puppy behind easily.

“Who? That’s my dog. Just got him. I’m sorry I forgot to pooper-scoop yesterday!”

I scowled. “Do I look like I’m from the fucking homeowners’ association? I don’t care about your dog’s poop. I’m here because of Diana.”