THREE

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Mark stalked across the living room to the bar and grabbed the bottle of Scotch he'd pulled out earlier.

"You okay, boss?" Adam asked.

He looked over at the giant of a man sprawled out on his couch. Adam had his arms stretched wide and one leg lifted to rest along the top edge, not so much lying on the thing as draped across it. Mark shifted his gaze to Ben, who was being his quiet self while practicing his game over at the pool table. In all the years he'd known them, there had never been more than a hundred yards of distance between the two men. Watching each other's back had been trained into them, ingrained so deep it had become second nature.

"I'm fine," he said, pouring himself another. He was just restless. Angry at his nephew. It had nothing to do with the lieutenant. Nothing at all.

Except he couldn't stop picturing her face. She'd be a lousy poker player—too much emotion revealed in those beautiful features. And her eyes . . . Would they flash that way if it were desire fueling the fire? he wondered. And afterward?

His imagination was quick to answer. Suddenly, she was with him in bed, both of them naked, sweaty, exhausted, those green irises now shimmering with a satisfied glow. His body reacted, the scene in his head stirring things up below the waist.

He cursed and lifted his glass, downing the contents. I need to get laid. Soon. He made a mental note to add it to his agenda, along with the specification, No brunettes.

Bruce came in from outside, one hand pushing back the longish hair that always seemed to be in his way.

"Where's your brother, man?" Mark asked. "We need to go over a few things before making this week's drop."

"He's finishing up a call." His head of security rolled his eyes. "Some chick is getting a little too clingy."

"Maybe we should send that cop over to deal with her," Adam said.

"What was up with her anyway?" Bruce frowned. "The bitch practically ran me over."

Mark's grip on the glass tightened.

"Poor baby," Adam drawled.

Bruce took a seat on the matching sofa across from Adam's and tossed a pillow at the guy's head. "She didn't seem to take you too seriously, either."

The door slammed. "Dude! Boots!" Steve yelled as he crossed the room, his glare fixed on Adam. "I sit there sometimes."

Toes were jammed into the heel of one cowboy boot, then the other, the leather monstrosities falling to the carpet with a muffled thump.

"Now we have to deal with his foot odor," Bruce muttered.

Adam pointed a finger at the man heading their way. "Blame blondie."

Steve picked a spot beside Bruce. "Maybe if you sat up, like a big boy?"

"Naah, I'm good."

Propping his elbows on his knees, Bruce leaned forward, looking like he was about to vault the coffee table. "We could make you sit up."

"Y'all can kiss my big, hairy ass."

Working as a team, it was possible, probable even, that the brothers could force the two hundred and eighty pound slip-cover into an upright position. But it wouldn't be without collateral damage. "You break anything, you replace it," Mark called out as he poured himself a third.

He walked over to join them and lowered his weight into the chair sitting midway between the opposing lines. He let them carry on. The banter was a stress reliever, and God knew they needed it. Looking around the room, Mark felt the strong connection he had with each and every one of them, knowing they would lay down their life for him if the situation warranted it. And that wasn't just in theory. They lived with the risk. Every fucking day. He stopped tracking the dialogue as his mind drifted back to the first time they'd met, the moment the four men had walked into that conference room twelve years ago. The sheer size of them was impressive, but it was their strength of character and ability to work well under pressure that had earned them the positions. Not to mention their intellect—Steve's IQ scored off the charts, although he'd be the last one to admit it.

Had it all been worth it? It was a question he struggled with more and more lately. Ben and Adam were now in their early forties, neither one of them having any relationship beyond what existed in this room. No ties. Safer that way. Steve was the youngest of the group, but even he had given up a lot, his love 'em and leave 'em attitude with women an indication that he was following right in their—

The word "cop" jolted him back to the present, as if all his senses had been fine-tuned to pick up anything relating to her.

The conversation had changed directions. Adam's hands were bracketing air over his pelvis as he rocked his hips up and down, the raunchy laughter of the others spurring him on. "She sure was a feisty little filly. I'd like to take her for a ride."

Mark slammed his glass down on the table in front of him, amber liquid splashing onto the polished wood. "Enough," he barked, the command coming out louder than he had intended. But at least Steve got his way: Adam hiked himself up into a sitting position, his mouth hanging open. They all stared back at him, waiting.

Damn it. He hated having to explain himself. Shoving a hand through his hair, he toned down the volume and said, "Show some respect. She did us a favor bringing Simon here."

"Where is he anyway?" Steve asked him.

"Upstairs, in his room."

"You need to get that kid under control," Bruce said.

"No shit. Any suggestions?"

There was muttering all around, none of which had anything to do with parenting skills. Ben surprised them all when his voice cut through the chatter. "You could tell him the truth."

Heads turned in the direction of the pool table.

Ben shrugged. "He's a smart kid. Curious. I betcha he's picking up on some confusing vibes. He's old enough now to handle it, and it might put an end to all the drama. You know what they say: 'The truth will set you free.'"

Leave it to Ben to go and get all philosophical on them.

Mark shook his head. "The truth could get him killed. Julia would cut off my balls if anything happened to him."

Adam leaned his head back, closing his eyes. "Ah, the fair Julia," he moaned.

Yeah, right, Mark thought. His sister hadn't been all that fair when she'd dumped Simon on his doorstep two months ago, claiming her son needed a father figure. What the teen really needed was direction, and a loved one to spend the time giving it to him, something which didn't fit into Julia's social calendar. Not that Mark's schedule or lifestyle was any more conducive to raising a kid. His job was not of the nine-to-five variety.

Speaking of which. "Let's get started," he said.

As they discussed the details of the upcoming week, he was grateful for the distraction. Work always grounded him, no matter what other shit was going on in his life. And tonight he needed it more than ever, to get his mind off the woman who had invaded his privacy—and his thoughts. 

END OF CHAPTER THREE

Thanks for reading! And for all of you with a keen eye , don't forget to let me know if you find a boo boo. I appreciate it! Any questions? Post them in the comments and I'll get back to you.

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