This month's sneak peek is Herc's Mercs: Room For One More!
“Finn! Good to see you!” Cade Thornton stood up, unfurling himself from behind his desk with surprising grace for such a big man. And Herc was big, taller than any of the men who worked for him except for Gabrielle “Mojo” Crowe. He was also broad in the shoulders, and despite the leg injury that had ended his career as a mercenary, Herc could do anything his men could do, and better than most of them. He stepped forward to shake Finn’s hand. “I hope you’ve enjoyed having a break, because I definitely need your skills now.”
“You have perfect timing,” Finn said as they shook hands. “I was getting restless.”
“I figured you might.” Herc gestured for Finn to take a seat, then he leaned back against his desk. “I was tempted to send you along with Morrissey, but there is no way you could have passed for Pakistani, not with those green eyes. But it turns out to be a good thing I didn’t. Do you remember Joker, Blaze’s XO in Bravo Company?”
The handle sounded familiar, but Finn couldn’t call up a face to go with it.
“I remember hearing about him,” he said, wishing he hadn’t sat down so he wouldn’t have to tilt his head so far to look up at Herc. “Why?”
Herc seemed to note Finn’s discomfort, and he chuckled before moving back behind his desk, sinking down into his comfortable chair with a sigh. “Joker’s an old salt at L&G, but age and wear and tear finally caught up on him, and he mustered out. He’s nursing a shoulder injury from his last deployment, and I guess it comes as no surprise that us guys well over forty don’t heal as fast as we used to. I’ve agreed to take him on to see how he likes the security business, so I’d like you to see to his training. And also make sure he gets physical therapy for his injury. He doesn’t always like to do what he’s told, if you know what I mean.”
“Not a problem,” Finn said, unable to hold back an eager grin. This mission might not land him in the middle of a war zone with lives on the line, but it would get him out of the house and using his skills. “I’ve had plenty of practice dealing with ornery mercs.”
Herc laughed outright at that. “I’ll say. I remember how you’ve handled D-Day’s bluster. Hopefully Joker won’t be that bad!”
“No one could possibly be as bad as D-Day,” Finn said, letting out a little snort.
“Yeah, but he’s worth it. Usually.” Herc shook his head, looking amused. “Okay, then. Shall we go meet your new partner? Or would you rather introduce yourself?”
A little flare of alarm shot through Finn, and he regarded Herc with growing concern. “Temporary partner, right?”
Herc raised a brow. “I was only thinking in the short term. What, are you worried I’m taking Morrissey away from you forever?”
Finn released a long, slow sigh of relief. “It’s just the way you worded it – ‘new partner’ – I wanted to make sure I understood what you meant.”
A teasing gleam appeared in Herc’s eyes. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to give you a heart attack, Finn. Okay, your ‘new, temporary partner’. How’s that? Though I seem to recall that Joker is quite the player, if you know what I mean. You two will make a very interesting pair, for however long it lasts.”
Finn’s face grew hot, and he knew his fair skin was betraying him with a blush. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Given his attitude about men other than Joe lately, he wasn’t going to approach this new partnership with any assumptions about what may or may not happen.
“All right.” Herc stood up once more, then moved to the door of his office. “Let’s get started, then. I figure you can take a couple of days to introduce him around, assess his condition, get him familiar with the facilities here and in Richmond. When you think he’s ready, I can give you a cupcake assignment to break him in with. Like most of the guys coming out of the field, he’s going to have an adjustment to the slower pace of the job.”
Finn rose to his feet and followed Herc to the door. “Sounds good,” he said. “If he gives me too much trouble, I’ll call for backup and let Pita work him over with those big baby blues.”
Herc chuckled. “Funny you should mention Pita,” he said cryptically.
He led Finn past Lexy, then on toward the big gym that occupied a significant amount of the Hercules Security facility. As they stepped into the spacious room, which was occupied by many of the off-duty bodyguards, Finn caught sight of Payne Gibson, AKA Pita, which was short for “pain in the ass.” Although Payne was much smaller than most of his coworkers – including his big husband, Hunter, who was trailing along in his wake – Finn had heard Hunter comment that ‘kinetic energy increases mass’ as an explanation for why Payne was actually much bigger than he looked. At the moment, Pita was chattering away a mile a minute as he hauled a tall, rangy, older-looking man with sandy hair around, introducing him to the gym’s occupants.
“And this is Mojo. He’s from Oklahoma, and he’s even taller than Herc,” Payne said, delivering the introductions at lightning speed. “His spotter here is Dead-eye, our best sniper. You might have heard about how he saved Geo and his clients by taking out the guys chasing them from the top of a hotel in Kyrzbekistan. Over there is Tailor. He’s a medic, and we call him ‘Tailor’ because he threatened to sew D-Day’s mouth shut once.”
Finn’s mouth went dry as he took in the sight of the newcomer. Why did the guy have to have a beard? A neatly trimmed beard was one of Finn’s biggest weaknesses. Before he could speak or move, however, Pita spotted him and Herc and led Joker over to them.
“There you are! I was showing Joker around like you asked,” he said cheerfully.
“So I see,” Herc replied drily, but his lips twitched. “If I can get a word in edgewise, I’d like to introduce Joker to Finn. Joker, this is Brian Finnegan. He’s going to be overseeing your training and PT.”
Joker looked at Finn, and there was no missing the gleam of interest in his blue eyes. He held out a hand. “Finn, is it?” he said, his voice deep with a distinct Texas drawl. He smiled, showing even, white teeth. “Pleased to meet you. I appreciate you agreeing to take me on.”
That slow, deep drawl made Finn’s toes curl, and when he slid his hand into Joker’s, the sparks nearly seared his palm.
“Hi.” His voice cracked a bit, and he cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
Joker didn’t release Finn’s hand. Instead, his grip tightened slightly, and he widened his eyes, as though he, too, had felt the tingle. “My off-duty name is Drew, by the way. Drew Martin.”
“Do you prefer Drew or Joker?” Finn gazed into Joker’s sky blue eyes, feeling as if he could drown in them, and he didn’t bother trying to tug his hand free. “I’m pretty much always Finn. No one calls me Brian except my parents.”
“Well, you can call me anything you’d like,” Joker replied. “So long as you call.”
Hunter Callahan snorted and shook his head. “You haven’t changed a bit, Joker. Just be aware that more than a few of the mercs around here are taken, and these guys could kick your ancient ass for poaching.” He dropped an arm around Pita’s shoulders. “Of course, I wouldn’t have to kick your ass, Payne is quite capable of doing it all on his own.”
“And you would know,” Payne said with a wicked grin as he slid his arm around Hunter’s waist.
“He’s got you there,” Herc said. “Okay, boys, let’s leave these two to get acquainted, shall we? Payne, I wanted to talk to you about the martial arts program the Richmond police have asked us to consult on. Joker… you’re in good hands.”
With that, Herc led Payne and Hunter back toward his office. Finn watched them go, a little disconcerted about being left on his own so soon, but he was a grown man, and he could handle training the new guy.
The tall, sexy, bearded, exactly-his-type new guy.
“So, uh… did Pita show you everything or do we need to pick up where he left off?” Finn asked. “Or did you have any questions you didn’t get to ask because he was talking a mile a minute?”
“Oh, I have all kinds of questions,” Joker said. He brushed his thumb along the back of Finn’s hand. “But none of them are about this place. Hunter gave me a pretty thorough briefing on the drive down from Richmond. What do you say we play hooky? We could go get something to eat, maybe get better acquainted? D-Day’s bragged to me that Raleigh has better barbecue than Texas, and I don’t believe it for a minute.”
The simple caress sent a shiver all the way down to Finn’s toes, and while he knew he ought to remain professional, he also wanted to give in to Joker’s temptation. He knew where this would lead. They’d eat, they’d talk, the flirting would get hotter and heavier, and they’d end the evening in either his bed or Joker’s. And for the first time in a week, Finn found the thought appealing.
“Sure,” he said, giving Joker’s fingers a little squeeze. “I know a good place that’s not too far away.”
“Perfect.” Joker’s smile was as slow and warm as honey and just as hard to resist. “I’ll follow your lead, Finn. Anywhere you want to go.”
Well. That certainly wasn’t a loaded statement rife with innuendo.
“How hungry are you?”
Oh, God, now he was doing it too!
Joker’s eyes seemed to grow darker, and he lowered his voice. “Starving. I’ve been in the field for almost two years, and even if L&G wasn’t as strict as the military, my opportunities for a good meal were few and far between.”
“You poor deprived man.” Finn moved into Joker’s personal space until he could feel the heat radiating from Joker’s body. “Maybe we should skip dinner and go straight to dessert.”
“Well, my mama always did say to seize the day.” Joker gave a wicked grin. “At the risk of being too forward, can I suggest your place? I haven’t even checked into a hotel yet.”
Under normal circumstances, Finn wouldn’t have taken a hook-up back to his apartment, viewing it as a potential security risk to allow a stranger access to his home. But Joker wasn’t a security risk unless he’d somehow fooled everyone at Lawson and Greer, Herc, and wherever he’d served before all that.
“Sure, let’s go. Want me to drive or do you want to take separate vehicles?”
“I came with Hunter and Pita,” Joker replied. “So I’m all yours.”
“Not yet,” Finn said with a playful wink as he headed to the elevator so they could go down to the parking garage. “But you will be.”