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FROM CHAPTER ONE
Jack settled in his office and spent the afternoon catching up on invoices, reports, and checking in with his staff, some of whom were on job installations. Just after lunch, he was doing some routine system checks when Ace walked into his office.
“You’re up.” Ace tossed an elegant-looking black envelope adorned with a gold crown in the center onto Jack’s desk.
“What’s this?” Jack picked up the envelope and removed the fancy invite inside. “Four Kings Security cordially invites you to our fifth annual black-tie dinner and charity auction event benefiting military veterans and their families. Join us for cocktails, dinner, dancing, and a—” Jack’s head shot up. “No.”
Ace’s grin was pure evil. The bastard. He waggled his eyebrows at Jack. “Oh yes.”
“Are you doing this?”
The fucker pretended to look disappointed as he placed a hand over his heart. “Alas, I’m no longer an eligible bachelor.” His evil grin returned. “But you are.”
“A bachelor auction? Really?” Jack narrowed his eyes. “Wait, so none of you are being auctioned?”
“But it’s just a date. For charity. We both know Colton would be fine with that.”
“King, Red, Lucky, and I discussed it. We decided we didn’t want to take the focus off the charity event or overshadow the rest of the guys on auction. I mean, I wouldn’t want King to feel bad if I brought in more money than him. It would bruise his manly ego.”
Something would bruise all right, but it wouldn’t be King’s ego. “King would get four times whatever someone ponies up for you.”
Ace’s offended gasp made Jack laugh. “Ouch! Harsh.”
“It’s that ‘Daddy’ vibe he gives off,” Joker said, hopping up to sit on Jack’s desk. “Like bees to nectar.”
“First off, get your ass off my desk. Second of all, please, please, walk up to King and call him Daddy. I will pay good money for you to do that right now.” Jack pulled some bills out of his wallet and tossed them on his desk.
“Pay good money to do what?” Lucky asked as he entered Jack’s office.
“For Joker to call King Daddy,” Jack offered cheerfully.
Lucky pulled his wallet out and removed several bills. “I will give you this if you go to his office right now and do that.”
“Do what?” Red asked, poking his head in. He narrowed his eyes at them. “Whatever you all are up to, I want no part of it.”
Ace patted Joker’s shoulder. “We’re paying Joker to walk into King’s office and call him Daddy.”
Red’s eyes went huge. “I’m taking a break and won’t be anywhere near this building. You’re on your own.”
Jack had never seen Red move that fast.
Joker threw his head back and laughed before growing serious. “You are all out of your fucking minds.”
Lucky waved the bills in Joker’s face. “Come on. Easy money.”
“Yeah,” Joker said with a snort. “And all it’ll cost me is my life.”
“You’re right,” Ace said, dropping down onto the couch to Jack’s left. “Ain’t no one in this place got the balls for that.”
“Got the balls for what?” Ryden asked from the door.
Jesus, was everyone hanging outside his office door just eavesdropping? He blamed Ace. Whatever happened, it was no doubt Ace’s fault. Shit. Jack spun in his chair to face Ace, groaning at the wicked grin on his face.
“Bro, no,” Lucky said in agreement.
“What? What’s going on?” Ryden asked, stepping into the room.
Ace stood and shoved his hands into his pocket, his innocent expression fooling no one. “We have a bet going on that no one has the balls to walk into King’s office and call him Daddy.” He pulled his own wallet out and added to the growing pile of cash on Jack’s desk.
Joker shook his head sadly. “So far there are no takers.”
Ryden peered at them. “Just walk in and call him Daddy?”
“That’s it,” Ace replied, smile wide.
Ryden shrugged. “I can do that.”
Jack quickly rounded his desk and stopped in front of Ryden. “Look, you’ve been here longer than six months. Your grace period for getting away with shit where King is concerned is over. Do not listen to these assholes.”
“Come on, Jack. Leave the soldier alone,” Joker said, a wicked gleam in his eyes.
Jack cringed. Joker was such an instigator.
Ryden took a step around Jack. “The fuck did you just call me?”
Joker blinked at him. “What?”
Never call a Marine a soldier.
Ryden marched over to the desk and grabbed the cash. He stuffed it into his pocket, then poked Joker in the shoulder. “You want to see some balls? Never send a Snake Eater to do a Marine’s job.” He stormed out of the room, and Jack turned to glare at his friends.
“Great. You just killed the new guy.”
Jack and Joker exchanged glances before they bolted for the door, Ace and Lucky on their heels. Three of them got stuck in the door from trying to leave at the same time. Jack shoved Joker out, taking advantage of Sacha stumbling forward so he could dart toward King’s office.
Jay sat at his desk, one leg crossed over the other, e-reader in his lap. He didn’t so much as bat an eyelash at the stampede heading his way, just pressed the button to turn the page, eyes never leaving his novel.
“Let me know if I need to put in another order of pain-relief cream.” Jay looked up with a hum. “I might just do it anyway. Ten orders in a month and I get a free scented candle. I’ve been wanting to try their Midlife Crisis.”
They all huddled around Jay’s desk near King’s door, which Ryden had conveniently left cracked open.
“Why didn’t you warn him?” Jack whispered at Jay, who lifted his big blue eyes to Jack, his soft boyish features making him look far more innocent than he was.
“Because he made fun of my bow tie and therefore must be destroyed.”
Ace snickered behind Jack. “Marine’s got balls. Gotta give him that much.”
“He’s got somethin’ all right,” Jay muttered, turning his attention back to his book.
“Hey, Jay. Your Southern is showing,” Lucky teased.
Jay put his hand to his chest and fluttered his lashes. “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.”
“You are adorable,” Lucky replied before everyone turned their attention back to King’s office.
“Sure thing, Daddy.”
“Fred, I’m going to have to call you back. Yeah, thanks.”
Holy fuck! King had been on a call.
“What did you call me?” King’s low, menacing rumble had Jack covering his mouth. He didn’t know whether to laugh or shout out a warning to poor Ryden.
“Holy shit!” Ryden shouted before a blur of movement and color that Jack realized was Ryden, flew out from King’s office, and Jack didn’t hesitate. He grabbed Joker’s arm, and they scrambled their asses the hell out of there, running from Jay’s desk.
“Ace!” King bellowed, and Jack knew what was coming next.
“It was the Wild Cards!”
Ryden hid behind Mason’s desk, and Jack motioned for him to get in the office. It was every man for himself, but still, Jack had to try. Ryden looked up at Mason, who glanced from King to Ryden and back before gingerly reaching down. Next thing they knew, Ryden was falling out from behind Mason’s desk. Everyone burst into laughter. Ryden got up and sped to Jack’s office in a crouch, as if King couldn’t see him.
“You shoot a guy once and he holds it against you for life,” Ryden grumbled as he crouched beside them.
“Since you guys have so much free time on your hands, how about you get your asses downstairs to the mats.”
Jack let his head fall against the door with a groan before turning to glare at Joker. “See what you fucking did?”
“Motherfuck.” Joker punched Ryden in the arm. “This is your fault, asshole.”
Ryden shoved Joker in return. “My fault? You’re the one who goaded me into it, jackass.”
“And you couldn’t wait until he got off the call?”
“I didn’t think.”
“Clearly. Fucking crayon eater.”
“Fuck you, Sacha.”
“We’re all equally fucked,” Jack said, standing. He let out a resigned sigh. “Come on, assholes. Let’s go.”
Ryden stared at him. “Wait, he really wants us down on the mats?”
Ryden looked nervously from Jack to Joker and back. “What, um… what’s he going to do?”
“Kick our asses.”
“He’s going to spar with us?”
Joker cackled while Jack shook his head. By the time they left the office, King was gone. “No. He’s going to kick our asses.”
“Are you telling me none of you hotshots can take King down?”
Joker snorted. “Don’t get cocky, Marine. No one in this building can take King down. They’ve all tried and failed. It’s hella fun to watch ’em try, though.”
“Until it’s your turn,” Jack said with a chuckle, hitting the down arrow at the elevator.
“Where’s your furry friend?” Ryden asked Joker.
“Chip has his own training schedule, and it’s during hours when no one else is on the mats.”
“Why’s that again?”
“Are you kidding me? We’ve got a building full of former military sparring together. Shit gets intense. Chip’s a soldier. The last thing we need is for things to get out of hand and for him to think one of his boys is getting attacked. We don’t need anyone losing any limbs.”
Ryden nodded slowly, eyes wide. “You know, sometimes I wonder whether I’d have been safer in jail.”
The elevator doors to the basement slid open in time for them to see Ace soar by, landing with a groan somewhere to their left. Joker chuckled and patted Ryden’s shoulder as he slipped past.
“Welcome to the family, pal.”