Present day—New York City
Tequila is the Mexican version of the middle finger, the perfect "fuck you" to someone you either can't kill or haven't decided to kill yet. It's liquid foreplay.
Exactly why I lift my shot glass at Adam, one of the two Walker Security compadres at the table with me, and down the booze, a wicked bite following.
"Sorry bastard," I murmur because he just took my money in a card game in the backroom of a New York City bar a few blocks from the Walker offices.
"Took my money, too." Smith, the other of the two Walker compadres, grimaces, tossing back his shot glass as well with a grimace. "Fuck, that burns." He runs a hand through his sandy brown hair, leaving it a rumpled mess. "Fuck."
I laugh a mocking laugh. "Little bitch—ass Army Ranger," I say, motioning to his hand. "Do you get pedicures, man? Because those are some soft hands you got there. A pussy's hands."
He snorts. "All you Green Berets do is blow shit up."
"Nah," I say, tracing my goatee and considering his level of stupidity, which is high. I drop my hands to the table and give in to the need to school this fool. "A Beret reckons himself a charmer," I explain. "He convinces people like you to blow stuff up while he watches."
Smith barks out a laugh. "You're a charmer? Give me a fucking break."
I lean forward and give him the cobra stare. The one I use right before I kill some asshole. "That's why I left. I like to do the killing myself. Could be you I decide to kill one day."
He laughs again and tosses popcorn in my face. "Bring it."
"And here we have the reason you both just paid me," Adam says, scooping up the pool of money. "You were both running your mouths and not paying attention."
"How about I come over there and shut your mouth?" I taunt, refilling my shot glass. "Then we'll see how Mr. SEAL Team Six does against a mercenary."
Adam's lips quirk and he leans forward, too—a big motherfucker, tall and broad, his dark hair a typical curling, wild mess. "We're all mercenaries now," he claims. "We work for profit."
"Not the way I did before I came here, and you know it." I run a finger down the scar on my cheek. "This only made me more of a bastard." I down another shot of tequila, feeling the booze when the new waitress heads our direction. She's a pretty little thing, a brunette who favors the only perfect woman I've ever known. A resemblance that might just require the entire bottle of tequila find its way to my belly. As if trying to make sure that's what happens, she kneels beside me and whispers, "A man who just handed me a hundred—dollar bill to request your presence is in the alleyway."
The hair on my arms goes all prickly. "Name?"
Iron Man might as well have punched me in the chest, but I don't react. "Thanks, sweetheart," I say. "Enjoy the money. You deserve it just for speaking to the prick." I reach into my pocket and palm her another hundred. "Go now."
"Thanks," she says, scraping her teeth over her bottom lip, an invitation in her eyes that I have no intention of accepting. Anyone who reminds me of her is a no go for me.
The waitress stands up and I don't watch her depart. I focus on Adam and Smith. "Count me out this hand," I say, shrugging into the leather jacket at the back of my chair, remarkably sober considering my level of tequila intake.
"Where the hell are you going?" Adam asks, the card deck in hand. "I'm dealing."
"I'll return to win my money back in a few," I say. "You better practice while you can." I stand up, taking the Glock at my hip right along with the blade hidden inside my waistband for this reunion.
I walk toward the front of the familiar bar, where I've hung out hundreds of times in the past three years since I joined Walker Security. This place is my comfort zone, a place to relax, and because I know Tag far more than I wish I knew Tag, that is exactly why he chose it. With long, measured strides, I make my way to the front door, because fuck no, I'm not walking into an un—scouted alleyway with a bastard like Tag. I exit into a bitter November chill that has nothing on a winter I spent in Russia. Adrenaline and agitation pulse through me as I walk to the end of the street and around the corner to enter a narrow walkway side street.
I stop short to find Tag is waiting on me, exactly as I'd expected he would. "Knew you'd take the attack route."
I step toe—to—toe with the brute of a man I once considered more a father than the bastard of a man I'd called father until I figured out I hated the fuck out of him. He's older now, cigarettes and years in Afghanistan shriveling up his skin like a damn raisin. "What the hell are you doing here?" My voice is low, taut, a threat he won't mistake as a greeting.
"Good to see you, too, Savage."
"Fuck you, Tag. What the hell do you want?"
"I'm in deep shit. I need a tug out."
"Whatever, man." I turn to leave.
"You owe me. You know you fucking owe me."
I stop dead in my tracks, grimacing with those words.
"I've never asked for payment. I'm demanding it now."
I turn to face him. "You don't demand shit of me, man. Fuck you. Get one of your boys on the payroll. They're stuck suckling your tit. I'm not."
"Someone burned me, betrayed me. There's a hit out on me. I'm going underground until this is over. You're the one I trust to handle this."
"Handle this? Define that statement."
"A job you'll enjoy, I promise. I need you to hit the man who's the mastermind."
Trigger pulled. "I don't hit," I say. "Not anymore." I turn to leave him, and this shit, behind for good.
"I have so many ways to burn you and you know it."
Acid burns my chest and I stop walking, but I don't turn and look at his ugly fucking face again.
"I wonder how your past affects the Walkers' reputation," he threatens softly and it is a threat.
My hand goes to my gun and I pull the fucking thing, turning to point it at Tag, who is pointing his own weapon at me. Piece of shit. "You don't think I know you, Savage?" he challenges.
"You won't kill me. You need me."
"And you won't kill me. You don't want a mess to clean up." He holsters his weapon. "You owe me."
"To think I once respected you." I holster my weapon, aware as he is aware that a debt between mercenaries is a blood oath. The price of betraying that oath is not pleasant. "I don't do threats," I say. "I will, however, honor the favor owed. If I have the facts and feel good about the job. The end. My debt will then be paid. And if you come to me after it's paid, I will shoot you. Start talking."
"You know how this works. We protect the integrity of the mission. We cut off a leak at the knees. You go where I send you and await instructions."
He reaches into his jacket and pulls out an envelope that he hands me. "Your mission, should you so choose to take it." With that, he steps around me.
I rotate to speak to his back. "To think I used to respect you."
He glances over his shoulder at me. "I don't give a fuck if you respect me. An oath is an oath." He disappears around the corner and I stand there, fingers curled in my palms for one reason: if I move, I will kill him. I shove the envelope into my pocket and glance skyward, the dark, starless night a perfect match for my return to that man's world. I can't put off reading my instructions and even if I could, this needs to be behind me.
I yank it from my pocket again and open it to remove the white card inside with only one word, one place, the place I swore I'd never return: San Antonio.
"Damn it to hell," I growl, squeezing my eyes shut, the torment on Candace's face when I told her I was leaving gutting me in ten different directions.
I ball up the paper, tossing it against the wall.
A movement behind me sets me off and I whirl around, grab the asshole sneaking up on me, and shove him against the wall.
"Holy hell, Savage," Adam growls. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Why the hell are you ghosting me?"
"I know you, man. I knew there was trouble. And I saw who you were talking to. He's that piece of shit you were working for when we met, beneath you a hundred feet. Whatever he wants, you're saying no."
"You don't make that decision." I release him and step back, scrubbing my jaw. "I'm off the books for a couple of weeks." I rotate away from him and exit the alleyway.
I've made it three steps when he's by my side. "San Antonio? You've got to be kidding me, man. I know what that place is to you."
"You don't know shit."
"Candace. Your father."
I stop walking and turn on him. "How do you know about Candace?"
"Vodka, man. I told you to stop drinking it. You forget when you drink vodka."
"I don't talk about Candace."
"Yeah, man. On at least three occasions. Which says a hell of a lot about why you're single."
"You're single, too, you prick."
"Your point? Never mind. My point—"
"Unless it involves more tequila, I don't care." I turn and start walking. He falls into step with me. He's pissing me off. "Get out of my face, man. I'm a live wire right now, and it has nothing to do with you. Don't make it about you."
"Punch me, asshole. Whatever. You go to San Antonio working for that asshole, I go with you."
I flag down a cab, and when it screeches to the corner, I climb inside. Adam follows. "Airport," I order.
The driver guns the engine. I open my door and tumble out onto the road, leaving Adam prisoner to speed. I'm on my feet and down a side street, fast—tracking into a subway tunnel before he can recover. Once I'm on a train, it's done. Adam is out of the picture. I just saved him from putting himself on Tag's radar. The way I tried to save Candace from me. And yet, here I am, on my way to San Antonio, and if Tag even thinks about involving her in this, I won't just kill that little prick. I'll make him suffer.