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“Goddamn it, Ace, get your ass back here!”
King’s indignant shout came through Ace’s earpiece, and it made his lips curl into a wicked grin. He hit the accelerator, and his Chevy Camaro Zl1 convertible roared like a wild beast. With the wind whipping through his hair, he tore down Anastasia Park Road, his vehicle mere feet from the black SUV trying to outrun him. Did they really think they were going to escape him?
“You’re not Vin Diesel in a fucking Fast and Furious movie! You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“It’s like you don’t even know me,” Ace shouted with a laugh, swiping his Glock from the holster under his arm. He leaned to the left and fired a warning shot, which hit the left taillight. The SUV swerved, regained control, and then lurched forward at full speed.
“Did you just open fire in a state park? Jesus fucking Christ!”
“Language, buddy. What would Momma say?”
“Don’t you bring your mother into this!”
“There’s nothing but road and trees. Besides, you need to be watching your blood pressure, old man.”
“Old— Fuck you! I’m a year older than you.”
“Technically, two years older.” Ace leaned over again, this time shooting out the right taillight, making the SUV swerve again. Amateurs. “My birthday’s not for another two months, which puts you at forty-one while I’m still in my thirties.”
“Would you stop shooting!”
“Why? Why? The ‘why’ should be obvious, you little shit!”
Ace tried hard not to laugh. King made it way too easy. “Like I said, there’s no one out here, so relax. I’ll have them before they reach A1A.”
“When I get my hands on you—”
After some scuffling, Red’s smooth rumble came over the line. “Ace? You gotta stop, buddy. Let the police handle it. Fifteen minutes. They’ll be with you in fifteen.”
“No can do, pal. My client, my problem.”
“Yeah, I get that, but, Ace, you’re not liable if the product you’re contracted to transport gets hijacked before you arrive to transport it.”
Fuck that. Didn’t matter that when he’d arrived at the client’s house, the client was screaming at a black SUV burning rubber, making off with the man’s million-dollar antique firearms collection. The point was, it was his client, and no fucking way was he letting these assholes get away with this shit on his watch.
Ace smiled at the sound of his cousin’s thickly accented voice, part of the Hispanic heritage they shared thanks to Ace’s Cuban mother. “Hey, the family’s all here! Hi, Lucky. How’s King?”
“Pacing the office and saying something about you sending him to an early grave. Por favor. Can you please not give our best friend and boss an ulcer, please?”
Ace snorted out a laugh. “King’s like a fucking Florida roach. Indestructible. A tank landed on him, and he’s still alive. Remember that?”
Red and Lucky erupted into barks of laughter, loud and boisterous. Man, he loved these bastards.
As expected, King was back on the line snarling at him. “Now you listen to me, you arrogant pain in my ass. You better do whatever the fuck you set out to do and not get dead, or I am going to hunt you down and murder you!”
“Well, that makes no sense. How can you murder me if I’m already dead? I mean, I guess maybe if I was dying and then you strangled me, or if—”
“Got it. Get the job done. Don’t get dead. That should be our new motto. I can see it now, right beneath the Four Kings Security crest. Clients will love it.”
“Gotta go. Don’t let Red eat all the donuts, and tell Lucky he still owes me fifty bucks.” He could hear Lucky cursing him out in English and Spanish before Ace disconnected the call. Time to put an end to this. He’d given the assholes two warnings, which they chose to ignore.
“Three strikes and you’re out.” With the opposing traffic lane empty, Ace floored the accelerator and pulled up beside the SUV. The driver looked at him, and Ace waved, gun in hand and a big smile on his face. He motioned for the guy to pull over, but was flipped off for his trouble.
“Okay, have it your way.” Ace prepared to shoot out one of the tires, but the guy wrenched the steering wheel, and Ace slammed the brakes. “Fucker tried to slam into me! So that’s how it is, huh?” Ace stroked his steering wheel. “Don’t worry, baby. No one’s gonna hurt you. Daddy’s gonna take care of it.” Pedal to the metal, he charged forward into the empty lane and sped past the SUV until he was several feet ahead. They were getting close to A1A and, more importantly, traffic. He jerked his steering wheel, the Camaro spinning until he was facing the opposite direction. He put the car in reverse and slammed the accelerator down, grinning at the stunned driver of the SUV as he whizzed by before moving into the lane and putting them almost nose to nose. Ace whooped loud, adrenaline rushing his system. Who did these guys think they were dealing with? Defensive driving was a staple of Four Kings Security. And the years Ace had spent driving all manner of vehicles over every kind of terrain didn’t hurt either.Movement from the
passenger seat drew Ace’s attention. The guy stuck the MP5 out the window, but before he could aim, Ace shot out one front tire, then the other. And unlike Ace’s car, which was equipped with run-flat tires, these guys had shit. The SUV’s driver lost control, careening off the road and into the shrubbery. Ace spun his car back around and followed, then hit the brakes when the SUV lurched to a stop. He put the car in park, unfastened his seatbelt, and got out. He was about to walk toward the SUV, when he heard King’s nagging voice in his head. With a grunt, he removed his double holster and snatched the tactical vest off the passenger seat. He quickly strapped it on, secured his Glock, popped the trunk, and pulled out his Taser shotgun.
Once the trunk was secure, he headed off into the dense shrubbery, shotgun at the ready. The only noise around him was from A1A traffic in the distance. He stalked toward the SUV, making sure to remain crouched low in the dry and dead overgrowth. It was after noon, and although the temperature was in the low eighties, the seventy percent humidity and glaring sun were trying to bake him. His black T-shirt was already sticking to his back, and sweat beaded his brow, the weight of the tactical vest certainly not helping. Having hunted through worse conditions, he barely registered the discomfort.
The SUV rocked, and the two front doors opened. The driver and his companion dropped out of the vehicle into low crouches. The driver held a handgun close to him, his companion the MP5. They darted to the end of the SUV, and the driver opened the trunk. A large armored crate sat in the back, and Ace shook his head. Were they planning on using a bunch of antique firearms?
“Fuck,” the driver hissed. “It’s got some kind of high-tech lock.”
No shit. These guys were obviously new to the whole hijacking gig. Did they really think a gun collection worth millions of dollars was going to be shoved in any old box? Ace recognized the crate, and that particular brand of awesome was equipped with biometric locks and a fingerprint scanner, so these dudes were shit out of luck. Ace steadied his breathing and crept into position right behind the two men. He’d seen all he needed. Gingerly he stood and aimed the shotgun at them.
“Any heart conditions I should know about?”
“The fuck?” MP5 guy and his companion jumped like spooked cats. They spun around, staring at him before their eyes dropped to the shotgun in his hands, their expressions comically bewildered. It was probably the bright yellow sections of the gun that were throwing them off.
“The fuck is that?” the driver asked, motioning to the shotgun.
“You didn’t answer my question. Heart conditions. How’s your ticker?”
The two men exchanged glances before the driver shook his head. “My heart’s fine.”
“Mine too,” the other replied.
“Glad to hear it.” He fired the shotgun in quick succession, hitting the driver’s companion first, then the driver, the 500 volts of electric shock dropping them to the ground, giving Ace roughly twenty seconds. Sirens filled the air, and by the time the police arrived on the scene, Ace was leaning against his car, arms folded over his chest, with the two men zip-tied on the ground by his feet.
Four squad cars skidded to a halt, and Ace waved at them. One very tall, very annoyed-looking officer wearing aviators got out of his car. He swaggered over to Ace like a cowboy from an old western, or more like a cowboy from Texas, since that’s what Officer Mason Cooper had been in another life. Mason towered over Ace, long legs, broad chest, and thick biceps, his large hands resting on his utility belt. He moved his aviators onto his head, his full lips—which Ace knew firsthand tasted very nice—pulled into a thin line.
“Good afternoon, Officer Cooper,” Ace said, grinning wide.
“Fifteen minutes,” Mason growled, that slow Texan drawl of his bringing back memories of them in bed together, naked, all that hard muscle pressed against Ace, his sexy rumble making Ace’s toes curl. “You couldn’t wait fifteen goddamn minutes?”
Ace squinted at him. “Is that a rhetorical question?”
Mason’s ice-blue eyes narrowed. He grabbed Ace’s arm and started hauling him away from the car before calling out over his shoulder. “Get ’em outta here. I need a word with Mr. Sharpe.”
Ace held back a smile at Mason’s manhandling. “Well, this brings back memories.”
Mason grunted, making sure they were far enough from the other officers before he released Ace, his low timbre doing lovely things to Ace’s groin.
“You okay?” Mason raked his gaze over Ace, his eyes darkening with lust. He tugged on one of Ace’s vest straps. “You listened.”
Ace rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, it was either that or have King nag at me about it.”
“I like how you were more concerned about King naggin’ at you than the possibility of ending up with a bullet in you.”
“I believe the two are not mutually exclusive. Remember when you arrested Red?”
Mason groaned. Loudly.
“Yeah, how’s that ‘not being nagged by King for the foreseeable future’ working out for you?”
“How many times do I gotta apologize for that? I was doin’ my goddamn job. I shouldn’t have to apologize! It was my first day. I didn’t know who the fuck y’all were. I answered a B&E, Red was there and strapped. How the fuck was I supposed to know he’d been hired to babysit the property? It wasn’t until King arrived at the precinct and everyone lost their fuckin’ minds because I’d apparently pissed off the Second Coming that I was told about y’all.”
Ace doubled over, laughing at Mason’s traumatized expression. Like he was having flashbacks of first meeting King. It had not gone well. The thing was, Ward Kingston only lost his shit with those he considered family because his emotions got the better of him, but with everyone else? He didn’t even have to talk. It was impressive. King gave off this weird vibe of familiarity, like he suddenly morphed into whatever guy the person he was dealing with had a soft spot for. He became their big brother, their beloved son, their favorite cousin, a long-lost love, and then they were eating out of his palm and they’d do anything not to disappoint him. It was something in those deep blue eyes of his and the way he smiled.
“I’m glad you find my distress amusing,” Mason mumbled. He glanced over his shoulder before turning his attention back to Ace. “So, what you up to this weekend?”
“Providing King doesn’t murder me? FYI, if you can’t find the body, flex those manly muscles in front of Lucky. He’ll sing like a canary.”
Mason scoffed. “No offense, but your cousin’s a manwhore.”
“Why would I get offended? He wears the status with pride.”
“Besides, you know I ain’t interested in Lucky.” His blue eyes softened, and Ace swallowed hard as he looked away.
Mason let out a sigh. He nodded before letting his head hang. “I know. Doesn’t hurt to try, though, right?”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Coop,” Ace said, gently poking Mason over his heart. “It does hurt. We tried, remember?” Mason Cooper was a great guy. Problem was, after almost a year of dating him, Ace knew as much about him now as when they’d first met. Mason had secrets. Lots of them. He also had major trust issues. The fact he couldn’t bring himself to confide in Ace—someone who made his living operating with complete discretion—after almost a year, made it clear they had no future together. Ace could have dug into Mason’s past or run a thorough background check, but he respected Mason, and looking into him without his permission would have been an unforgiveable breach of whatever they’d had. Having access to the information, didn’t give him the right to use it.
The sex had been amazing, and the intimate moments even better, but Ace needed more. The problem was he cared about Mason, which led to them hooking up several times after their breakup. Having Mason shut him out each time he tried to get close had become too painful, so he’d done what he did with every guy who made him feel like he’d want more—he left them before they could leave him. They could be friends. Nothing more.
“I reckon you’re right,” Mason said quietly. “It was good, huh?”
Not trusting himself to speak, Ace nodded. He patted Mason’s shoulder. “I’ll follow you to the station.” He spun on his heels, walked backward to his car, and winked at Mason. “Gotta call this in. I’ll be sure to tell Lucky you asked about him.”
Mason’s laugh when he flipped Ace off made him smile. Whatever demons Mason was battling, Ace hoped the guy found some peace. He deserved to be happy.
Ace helped two officers haul his client’s crate into the back of Mason’s squad car before he climbed behind the wheel of his Camaro. “Thanks, officers!” Ace waved as he waited for Mason to get into his car.
Watching the man walk by was always a treat. As soon as Mason was on the move, so was Ace. Since his client’s property was now in police custody, Ace wouldn’t be letting it out of his sight until his client arrived at the precinct. It would take some time for the property to be released from evidence, then Ace would transport it as agreed. Soon as he was done, he’d drive off to his home away from home. Of course, that meant having to deal with his less-than-thrilled brother-in-arms. If all else failed, he’d do what he’d been doing for years when it came to pissing off King. Hide.