By Misty Evans
Connor McKenzie woke to the phone blaring in his ear.
Probably because he was sleeping on top of it.
Drooling on it as well, because when he jerked back, his instincts automatically directed his hand to the handset, and he found slime all over the black SFI office phone.
Of course, since he’d been working 24/7 with no time off, he hadn’t seen his bed since zero dark thirty-seven…no, make that eight, since the clock on the phone’s readout said it was after midnight.
Rubbing his eyes as the phone blared again, he pushed up off of his desk and cleared his throat. Near the desk, Maggie raised her big, black head and looked at him with her perpetually sad Labrador eyes.
Being the office manager for Rock Star Security came with a lot of perks. RSS was the front for Shadow Force International, where former SEALs roamed the hallways, covertly saving the free world on a daily basis. Connor was constantly surrounded by men he respected and who respected him. They understood each other; understood what each other had been through. Add to that the fact Beatrice let him bunk two floors up in an office he’d converted to a bedroom, and it was the best home he’d ever had. The bedroom wasn’t much, but it beat living out of his car.
Maggie was another perk. He loved that dog. Meeting his eyes, she wagged her tail with a solid thump-thump-thump against the floor.
She was always up for an adventure, and good to have around because of his PTSD. She didn’t have any training, but Cal had told Connor she’d saved his mental health many times. The dog had kept Connor from sinking into a dark hole on more than one occasion as well.
Technically since he lived upstairs, Connor could go home anytime he wanted, even though no one was in the office to man the phones but him. He and Rory had set up a system that transferred all calls to Connor’s phone in his bedroom when he quit for the day or needed down time. Beatrice didn’t trust an answering service with the particular calls that might come in from Rock Stars or SFI operatives.
Connor opened his tired eyes and caught sight of the blinking button on the phone as the damn thing continued to ring insistently. Red, not orange. The private line Emit had for the managers to use when they needed immediate assistance.
SFI rules were that they never identified the business when answering on the off chance it was a wrong number or one of them had been compromised. Beatrice was strict about that. While the cell phones every employee used were secure, breaches could happen. All personnel used code names and had to answer a security question before discussing any Rock Star or SFI business.
Just in case, Beatrice always said.
Connor had the feeling he didn’t want to know what just in case meant. He also didn’t want to know what might happen if he failed her.
“Con, we’re in trouble.”
Connor sat straight up, nearly knocking over his Coke. The voice on the other end was low and guarded, and the person had already broken protocol.
But it was a voice he knew well, and a person he definitely didn’t want to fail to help. If anything, he hoped to get on the guy’s SFI squad one of these days. “Sir? Please state your security clearance code.”
“Fuckin’ A, that’s my security code,” Cal Reese quipped. “We need help. We need reinforcements.”
“Are you in imminent danger?”
“Yes. The queen bee is in the hive and she is in imminent danger.”
“But sir, there are no…”
The line went dead.
“…reinforcements,” Connor finished.
He stared at the handset. The queen bee was Beatrice. The hive was her and Cal’s home.
Beatrice was in imminent danger.
From whom? From what?
Fuck on a stick. Connor dropped the handset into its cradle, his guts turning over on themselves.
Emit, Rory, Jax, and Colton were all still in Chicago, opening the new Central Division Rock Star headquarters. Obviously, Cal, Beatrice, and Trace Hunter were back, but the rest of the Rock Stars and SFI operatives were working, many of them out of the country.
RS bodyguards couldn’t simply leave their clients. Ditto for the SFI operatives who were undercover on assignments at all four corners of the earth.
Connor started to lift the handset again and call Miles, but no, Miles was in San Diego, once more running the West Coast SFI office.
Which meant he was out of options.
Zeb. Yeah, he’d call the old spymaster…
His out-of-options list grew. Zeb had gone to Chicago with Beatrice. Connor hadn’t heard from him. Had he come back with Cal and the others or stayed in Chicago?
A burning sensation started in his gut while icy pinpricks attacked the base of his spine. Both spread like blood from a gunshot wound, making his body tremble and his breathing come in short, barely-there intakes.
Beatrice was in danger. Real danger if Cal was ignoring protocol and calling him for backup. Callan Reese was a former SEAL who’d saved the president in front of the entire world.
Beatrice’s personal bodyguard was Trace Hunter. Another former SEAL with superhuman powers. The guy belonged in a Marvel comic book for realz.
If both of them couldn’t handle whatever trouble Beatrice was in, well, then… How the hell was he supposed to?
His hand shook as he jammed his fingers through his hair. Get up, he told himself, but he couldn’t make his legs move. They were frozen stiff.
Not now! He couldn’t let his PTSD handcuff him.
Breathe. Beatrice was always telling him to take a deep breath and focus on one thing. A trick she’d learned from Hunter.
Grabbing the handset, he dialed Zeb, hoping against hope the old man was back in DC. Bracing the handset between his ear and shoulder, he woke up the computer and started shutdown procedures. He’d never had to do it before and another moment of indecision and self-doubt caught him with his fingers hovering over the keyboard.
He never left the office unless his backup, usually Rory or the new lab tech, Sabrina, was available to answer phones and handle emergencies.
Zeb’s phone rang three times. Voicemail answered. Connor left a quick SOS and asked Zeb to call him back.
What now? Should he gear up and head to Cal and Beatrice’s?
What about the baby?
If anything happened to any one of them…
Maggie whimpered, drawing his gaze. She sat beside the desk, tail rapping the floor and stuck her head in his lap.
There was no time to pet the dog, but his hand had a mind of its own, naturally going to Maggie’s head and rubbing her sleek, soft fur. His breathing resumed a semi-normal in-out rhythm after a moment and his mind re-engaged.
Grasping at straws, he dialed the lab extension, hoping against hope that Sabrina might somehow still be in the building. He’d never seen her leave—one of the reasons he routinely stayed at the desk so late every night was for that very reason. He enjoyed watching her sexy legs in those righteous high-heeled boots walk past his desk every evening. He loved her red hair and the way she teased him about being a camo-wearing receptionist, even though the term ‘receptionist’ made his ego smart.
From big, tough, badass SEAL to a useless receptionist. His life had gone to hell, thanks to 12 September.
Still petting Maggie with one hand, he closed off the black hole that sucked at him every time he thought of the terrorist group.
Bzzz-bzzz. The phone on Sabrina’s end rang again. It was Saturday night. A beautiful, smart, hip gal like her couldn’t possibly still be working this late on a Saturday night, could she?
“Conmeister?” Her voice was rough and sexy, like he’d woken her from a nap. He heard her yawn. “It’s nearly two a.m. What are you still doing at the main desk?”
God Almighty, he hated it when people called him nicknames, but hearing any version of his name coming from Sabrina’s luscious mouth was heaven. She got a free pass, regardless of what she wanted to call him.
“What are you still doing in the lab?”
She chuckled. “Touché. What’s up?”
“SOS from Cal. He and B got home from Chicago but something’s wrong. I don’t know what. He must have thought his cell was compromised because he was speaking in code, but he used my name, which is like, I don’t know what. I think he was definitely shook up.”
She was fully awake now. “Oh, shit. What can I do?”
“Man the phones and watch Maggie for me. I’m gearing up and heading their way.”
Her voice was full of indignation. “No way! Not without me. Who did you call for backup?”
“There is no one. Everyone is working or out of town.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Connor opened his bottom drawer and pulled out his Beretta PX4 Storm and checked the clip. Full. “With the addition of the San Diego and Chicago satellites, we’re short on staff. Literally, there’s just you and me in DC at this moment. We can’t leave the phones unmanned, so tag, you’re it.”
“Why don’t you call the cops?”
If Cal had thought the police could handle it, he would have dialed 911 himself. Whatever this was, he didn’t want them involved. “I’ve got to go.”
He hung up on her protest, punched the button to transfer incoming calls to the lab phone, told Maggie to stay, and headed for the weapons room.
Preparing for the enemy was challenging when you had no clue who the enemy was.
Pretend it’s a sleeper cell of 12 September. If you were taking them on, what would you bring?
A rocket launcher.
The biggest one he could carry, in fact.
SFI’s weapons room had plenty of firepower, but they did not, in fact, have any rocket launchers.
A shame, that. He mentally added it to his inventory list for next month.
Connor snatched a black duffel from a shelf and started throwing in grenades, a couple of H&K submachine guns, ammo, and a sweet sniper rifle he’d been dying to use.
He was strapping on a vest when Sabrina came skidding into the room in her socks. Her boots were in-hand, her hair flat on one side, totally sexy and tousled on the opposite.
Probably what she looked like when she first got up in the morning.
And damn, if her big brown eyes and that crazy hair didn’t make him hard.
“You’re not leaving without me, Conmeister.” She slipped on one boot—with a 3-inch black heel—jumping and hobbling on her other foot, and breathing heavy from her run to catch him. She was dressed from head to toe in red like always.
A deep burgundy red that totally clashed with her copper colored hair.
Connor tore his gaze away from her full lips and even fuller cleavage on display from the deep V of her silky shirt. She continued hopping on her foot as she pulled on the second high heel, the action jiggling her double-Ds and making his hard-on downright painful. “I’m totally leaving without you, Red.”
“Bullshit!” She snatched a bulletproof vest from the wall and shoved her arms through the holes. “You have no idea what you’re walking into. This is Beatrice we’re talking about!”
He slammed the cage shut on the submachine gun selection and locked it. “I’ll handle it, whatever it is.”
“Look,” she said, grabbing his arm. “I know I was just a chopper pilot and I never saw action like you did when I was in the Navy, but I know how to handle a gun. At least let me fly you to their house and set up a stakeout. I can have you there in fifteen. It will take you at least thirty by car.”
Fly? “Unless you have a magic carpet hiding under your lab coat, how are you going to fly me anywhere?”
Sabrina grinned, shrugging out of the lab coat and putting on the vest. “You know the helo pad on the U-Comm building at the end of the block? There’s an EC 145 that can cruise at 150 miles per hour easy. I happen to know the owner and we can use it, no questions asked.”
This woman in red was a mystery, but then, so were many of the people that worked for SFI. “You’re friends with the owner of one of the most expensive luxury helicopters available in the marketplace today?”
She grinned again. “More than friends, actually.”
Connor’s hard-on softened. “I don’t think your boyfriend will appreciate you taking his helo on a rescue mission.”
And if your boyfriend is a millionaire, why are you here working tonight?
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Sabrina said, grabbing a .38 mil from the handguns. “He’s my dad.”