Chapter One


SOMETIMES IN life, being a person’s protector translated into trivial situations like making sure they called when they got home safely after leaving your place for the night. At other times caretaking took on a more life-or-death connotation. Me looking after Trevan Bean was the latter, which was why I came along to what appeared, on the surface, like a normal everyday meeting with his fairly new boss, Marc Eastman.

“You know,” Trevan teased—he’d learned to do that over the course of our acquaintance—“having you come with me is like bringing a gun to a knife fight.”

“You’re saying I’m overkill?”

“Yeah,” Trevan said, grinning wolfishly. “That’s what I’m saying.”

Once upon a time, he’d been terrified of me. That had stopped years ago, which said more about me and how scary I wasn’t anymore than anything else.

It made sense. I was tired. Though I didn’t like to admit it, after twenty-plus years of killing for my country under the umbrella of the military, and then for profit as a private contractor, I was more than ready to quit. The chances of that happening, of everyone letting me quietly walk away, had been, originally, slim to none. As a rule, contract killers didn’t retire; someone retired them. The fact that I would be spared that was still very new, a blessing that had blindsided me. It wasn’t, however, only my good fortune. The man we were there to see was also reaping the rewards of my newfound lease on life. Had I still been thinking I had no future, I would have been far less patient with him.

When we reached the penthouse on the slowest elevator in existence and I exited, I counted five men in the room—not including Marc Eastman and his second-in-command, David Seta, who were sitting out on the balcony, Eastman on his phone. Conspicuously missing was Dean Fortney, Eastman’s muscle, the guy in charge of security. It looked ominous.

One of the men waved Trevan and me outside onto the balcony that looked out toward Ren Cen. It meant all those men between us and the door, but I was still pleased to have a great view of all the other buildings. It meant Ceaton Mercer, my number two, my guardian at meetings like this one, would have no trouble making sure Trevan and I remained healthy. Eastman had no clue whom he was truly dealing with. Sadly, that ignorance would end with this meeting.

Gesturing for Trevan to go ahead of me as I trailed behind him, I noted the sharp contrast between the white rugs, furniture, and walls in Eastman’s home and the black overcoats Trevan and I wore. I wasn’t crazy about the target we presented, but between myself and Ceaton in the next building, I was pretty confident that even if Eastman’s men drew down on us that we would be all right. The odds were in our favor.

Once outside, we took seats across from Trevan’s boss. It was fortunate we were still wearing our overcoats because it was cold outside, somewhere in the twenties. Yesterday it had been warmer, up in the fifties, but the temperature plummeted overnight and hadn’t come back up.

“Why are we out here,” I groused under my breath, irritated, hating the cold almost as much as the cloying humidity of summer.

“I prefer it actually,” Trevan answered my rhetorical question. “I mean, it feels like a fishbowl in there. At least out here we can breathe.”

“It’s March,” I muttered, still grouchy, having not had enough coffee yet. “Jesus.”

Trevan chuckled beside me. “It’s Detroit.”

I grunted.

“I think you hate the cold more than anyone I know.”

It made me foul; there was no way around that. I should have planned to move to Florida instead of Boston because that was like going from the frying pan into the fire, but I had already made the plans to leave Detroit very soon.

“Seriously,” Trevan teased me. “Maybe the city we want is Honolulu.”

“Shut up,” I ordered.

“Trevan,” Eastman greeted warmly after ending his call, standing from behind a heavy cut-glass table with beveled edges, hand held out for my friend to take.

Trevan stayed seated and kept his arms crossed, no longer needing to make nice with the guy who’d killed his old boss, his first boss, the man he would have walked through fire for, trusting me when I said his family was safe and his husband, Landry Carter, already in Boston, was just as secure.

“No?” Eastman said snidely, spurring laughter and snickering around us. “You don’t even want to touch me anymore?”

“I never wanted to,” Trevan assured him, “but now I don’t have to because I’m leaving the city after this.”

“You don’t go anywhere without my say so, little boy.”

Trevan scoffed. “Watch me.”

Eastman’s gaze darted to me, and I watched guys moving to stand behind me out of the corner of my eye.

“You should have them be still,” I suggested. “Don’t want everyone ending up like Fortney.”

He jolted—it wasn’t subtle—and Seta, beside him, went ashen. “Where’s Fortney?” Eastman asked shakily.

“Call and find out.”

Everyone froze as Eastman turned to his second-in-command, who pulled his phone from the breast pocket of his suit jacket.

“I need to check something,” I said, opening my hand and extending it out to my side. The small red dot that hit it caused murmurs on the balcony and in the room next to us, gasps, and Seta whimpered as he spoke while Eastman quickly crossed his arms.

“What is this?” he asked sharply, no power in his voice, more a rasp.

“This is me wanting you to understand that everyone here is alive right now because I’m allowing it. Move your guys back where I can see them or I’ll have my colleague start shooting.”

Everyone complied quickly and moved to the opposite side of the balcony or room behind Eastman.

Seta placed his phone facedown on the table.

“Well?” Eastman prodded anxiously, brows furrowed, lips pursed, just the picture of unease. What’s going on?”

“Fortney’s dead,” Seta reported.

Eastman had a pretty good poker face, but when he glanced at me as well, he caught his breath. The quick swallow was not something I missed either.

“Just dead?” I asked Seta, wanting my intent to be clear.

He cleared his throat. “No. You left him in pieces.”

“Not me,” I clarified, smiling smugly, laying it on. “A colleague.”

“Why would he do that to—to him?”

I shrugged. “I asked my guy to send a message.”

“And what was that?”

I turned to Trevan.

“What?” Trevan repeated.

“Fortney killed Pike,” I told him flatly.

“He was the one?”

I nodded.

“Thank you for finding out.”

I returned my attention to Eastman and Seta. “Trevan asked me to find the guy who killed Pike and then to make sure that he got the same—and more—that his mentor did.”

Eastman took a breath through his nose.

“I didn’t want you to miss retribution when you saw it,” I stated flatly.

His hands closed tightly over the ends of the armrests on his chair. “You realize that I have twenty men here in the penthouse with us and even more just one floor below.”

“The man covering my back is a surgeon with a rifle in his hand, and at the moment he has the most expensive scope in the world mounted on it. I know that because I bought it for him a little over a month ago as a housewarming present.”

He shivered. It was subtle—I only saw it because I was watching so closely.

“Plants are so cliché, don’t you think?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Eastman promised.

“You’re not.” I was implacable. “Because if I do anything but sit here and smile, my guy will send an RPG into the floor below after he kills every last person left alive here.”

“You think he can shoot that fast?”

“He doesn’t have to do anything fast. He’ll just kill whoever’s left once I’m done.”

Eastman paled.

“I have a gun too. I’m not just going to sit here and let you draw down on me or Trevan. You’re insane if you think that could ever happen.”

“You’re so confident in your associate?”

“I didn’t say associate. I said he was my guy, and that makes all the difference here with what lengths he’s prepared to go to.”