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It was supposed to be a one-night stand with a tall, wiry, handsome, slightly nerdy guy with oddly captivating green eyes. Those eyes were the only clue that there was a lot more to this guy than I’d first assumed—they were hard, wickedly intelligent, cunning eyes. They hid more than they revealed, and the name he gave, Lear, seemed made up. But he was sexy and he talked a good game, and I was in the mood for some fun.
Turns out, though, that the green-eyed nerd I’d so enjoyed sleeping with was no one to screw around with, either. And he doesn’t like being forced to violence—which he was, in rescuing me. Not that I needed rescuing, mind you. I mean, there were a lot of them, and they were tough, and well-trained.
I could kick ass and takes names with the best black-ops commandos in the world, and this mysterious Lear seemed to be no slouch either. It would take all of our combined skills to stay alive, but that’s not the part I was worried about.
No, what worried me wasn’t staying alive, it was staying out of love. I’d agreed to let Lear into my pants—one night only, thanks, and goodbye…it seemed fate had other ideas.
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On the Hunt
I snapped the freshly cleaned barrel back into place, loaded a fresh mag into my HK MP5A5, and hung it on the rack next to my M4 carbine with the M203 on the lower rail. Beside that was a Remington M40A5 sniper rifle, and next to those were an AK47, an M16, a Steyr Aug, a Mossberg tactical shotgun, and an HK MP5SD. Another smaller rack above the large weapons held an assortment of handguns, from holdouts to hand cannons. Running vertically in my gear locker beside the gun racks was a series of shelves holding the appropriate magazines and clips for each weapon, and boxes of ammo. The bladed weapons were on another shelf on the other side of the guns, a wonderful array of folding knives, tactical knives, survival knives, throwing knives, switchblades, exotic knives, custom-made knives and throwing stars. If it had a blade, I had one of them, including an actual antique Roman short sword, and a ninth-century Viking spear, but those were housed in special cases in my personal weapons locker in my Chicago condo.
Chico, the squadmate I was closest to, both in physical proximity and personally, watched me finish cleaning my HK, put it away, and then do the same thing for my sidearm. “Yo, Cuddy. Anyone ever tell you you’re obsessive about your guns, even by our standards?”
I laughed. “It may have been mentioned.” I gesture at his HK, which, while not dirty by any means, wasn’t what I would personally call clean. “A clean rifle is a good rifle, and a good rifle keeps you alive.”
Chico, a spark plug of a man from El Salvador, tilted his weapon this way and that. “You call this dirty? I clean it, bitch. Just not like you do.”
I gave him a wry grin. “Watch who you call a bitch, bitch. Tits or not, I’ll kick your ass.”
Fonz, on the other side of me, snorted as he ran a whetstone over the blade of his beloved balisong, also known as a butterfly knife—his was a hand-forged custom number, with a six-inch, S-curved, serrated blade, and a black walnut handle polished to a glossy shine. “Chico, you know better than to fuck with Cuddy after an op. She’ll gut you like a fish and you know it, son.”
“Eh, she would not,” Chico said, slotting his HK into his weapons locker. “She love me too much. She want to have my babies, she just don’t know it, yet.” His wary glance at me and hesitant grin told me he knew damn well the ice below his feet was very, very thin.
Fonz slowly let his whetstone drift to a stop, as he watched my reaction to Chico’s needling.
I didn’t answer right away, letting Chico sweat as I pieced my Beretta back together and slid it into the holster at the small of my back. When I finally responded, it was in that low, icy voice which the guys all knew meant trouble. “Chico, we all know nerves run hot after an op like we just finished. So I’ll let it go, because you had my back…back there.” Then I stood nose to nose with him, or nose-to-chin, because even Chico’s stumpy five feet nine was three inches more than my height. “But, buddy, you know better. This is the only warning you’ll get when it comes to jokes like that.”
A bead of nervous sweat ran down his jaw—and this was a man who had dropped six tangos in less than thirty seconds, from eighty yards, in the dark. “Sorry, Cud. My bad. Adrenaline, you know? You’re my bro, okay? No big deal.”
I stared him down until he looked away, fiddling with a box of 9mm shells and a magazine.
When I was sure I had made my point, I finished taking care of my gear in blessed silence. The last thing I did was take off my vest and hang it up—that was the ceremonial portion of finishing any operation as a combat specialist with RMI—Raze Mercenary Industries. Taking off that bulletproof vest was the final act in divesting myself of the “Cuddy” persona.
Cuddy was the badass, the trained killer, the ice queen with a heart of cold, hard, razor-sharp steel. If you were a merc, a security contractor, a hitman, assassin, black ops specialist, or otherwise ran in those circles, Cuddy was a name you knew and feared. I’d worked my ass off since the age of nineteen to make sure of it.
But once I took off the vest, I allowed myself to relax, just a little. I could be Danielle. But, of course, Cuddy was never far below the surface.
I tossed a wave over my shoulder as I left the communal locker room at RMI’s compound in rural Illinois. “See ya, boys.”
There was a chorus of “See ya, Cuddy,” from the locker room, and I could identify each one by voice: Fonz, Nolte, Tompkins, Hal, Gypsy, Toro, Belly, and Padre. Including me and Chico, that made our two five-man squads, RMI’s primary muscle. I headed for my tricked-out ’93 Defender, lugging my gear bag over one shoulder—I always left my heavy iron at the compound, but I never went anywhere without a backup kit which included an HK UMP, a Glock, a KA-BAR, cash, a vest, a spare passport, BDU’s, and ammo. Tossing my go-bag in the passenger seat, I started up the custom-tuned diesel V-8 and waited.