A guy that couldn’t be much older than me sat in the seat next to me and I tried not to throw up when my gaze landed on the wicked-looking gun that he held in his hand. The driver turned around to look at me through mirrored sunglasses and the passenger turned around to smirk at me. I recognized him from the attack at Jared’s apartment and everything inside of me froze and went startlingly numb.
The driver pulled the big vehicle into traffic as I gulped and tried to make my unresponsive body respond. I curled my shaking hands into fists on my lap and kept my eyes locked on the gun that was trained, unwavering, right on my side.
“Do you have a full tank of gas?” I finally got the words loose and they had both the men in the front seat turning to look at me.
I exhaled and could taste terror and panic bright and crisp across my tongue.
“Because we’re going to the mountains.”
Not just any mountains. We were going to go to Quaid’s mountains. I was going to take these thugs on a wild-goose chase so I could hopefully buy Rome and Church time to help my parents out. There was a pretty good chance I wasn’t going to see tomorrow, and if that was the case, I was going to spend my last moments in the place where I fell in love and felt more loved than I ever had.
It was the easiest decision I ever made.
She told you not to call the cops.”
I shot Rome a look out of the side of my eye. It had been a long time since the big man had been my CO but some habits were hard to break, and ever since I came to Denver to work for him I often found myself looking to him for direction and guidance. The man had saved my life more than once, so it was a rare occasion I questioned him. That’s why I was sitting next to him in his big-ass truck as he raced across town towards Darcy’s house based on nothing more than Avett’s cryptic words and odd behavior. He thought something was wrong and I hated to think he was probably right.
He tossed his cell phone on the seat next to him and met my look with one of his own. The scar that bisected his eyebrow and slashed across his forehead always made him look fiercer and more terrifying than he actually was. Rome had settled into full-on civilian life since leaving the Army. The man had a forever kind of girl and a growing family, not to mention he was pushing paper and paying bills like an average Joe, instead of doing things that a man trained to kill in a variety of ways could be doing with his time. Maybe I should envy him. It was clear Rome had found not only peace but his place since getting out, but none of that was for me.
In fact, speeding towards the unknown, handguns stealthily tucked away as we tossed around various hostile situations that could be waiting for us when we reached the house, was the most alive, the most invigorated, I had felt in way too long. I wasn’t sure what kind of sick fuck that made me—the fact that I missed dodging bullets and the sounds of bombs going off way too close to where I was trying to sleep, but I did. What I didn’t miss were my friends dying and fighting a war that felt like it would never end. If I never had to make another phone call to a surviving wife and family again, I would be a happy man. A bored man, an unfulfilled man, but a happy one. I was pretty sure I wasn’t hiding that the only part of bouncing at the bar I liked was knocking heads together when idiots got out of line and the daily back and forth I had with Dixie.
The job was simple—I could do it in my sleep—but Little Miss Sunshine with her strawberry blond curls and her “I don’t believe in bad days” attitude was anything but. I’d never met anyone that was so … happy. The woman acted like the world wasn’t going to shit and like her go-nowhere job handing out drinks and smiling at drunks was the best thing to ever happen to her. And what really got to me was the fact she wanted to be my friend. What in the actual fuck? I only had a handful of those and sure as shit none of them were women. I wasn’t friends with people I wanted to fuck, and even though she wasn’t my type, her optimism alone was enough that my dick had no business getting hard when she turned her pretty fawn-colored eyes in my direction. Big doe eyes that were so soft and warm that they made me want to believe in things I knew weren’t real. I’d left anything that looked like hope and faith in the desert when my last platoon had been attacked and I’d buried pretty much every single man I’d been in the war with for the last eighteen months. It didn’t matter; Dixie spread her sunshine around, tried to get the rays to break through the perpetual black cloud that hovered around me, and I wanted her. I wanted to show her how rough and ugly the world and the people in it could really be, and since I wanted to tear apart what made her who she was, I stayed away while everything inside of me ached to get as close to the sunny little cocktail waitress as I could.
My being able to kill time and lay low at the bar was running out and not because I was bored and restless. My time was up because it was getting harder and harder to stay away from the girl and I refused to be the reason any of her pretty and infectious light went out.
“I didn’t call the cops, I called a cop. Royal said she would wait for my call but would have guys ready to roll as soon as we give her a status update.”
I tapped my fingers on my knee and nodded. “You really don’t miss this?”
Rome turned his head towards me and the edges of his mouth pulled down. “No. I have people I need to be around for now, and I want to see my kids grow up. Catching bullets and putting myself in danger are two things that are so low on my list of things I want to be doing with my time they don’t even rank.” He lifted the ruined eyebrow at me. “You do?”
I shrugged a shoulder and turned to look out the window as he pulled the truck to a stop around the block from where Darcy’s modest home was located. “I was in for a long time, longer than you. Sometimes I think the fight and the fear changed my blood. It doesn’t seem to move through me the way it used to. I can only feel it when the adrenaline kicks in.”
His dark eyebrows snapped down in a deep V and his mouth pulled tight. “That’s not any way to live, Church. You shouldn’t have to chase after things that can kill in order to feel alive.”
No, I shouldn’t, but I did, which meant I was a dangerous man, far more dangerous than I had been when I was working for good ole Uncle Sam.
We climbed out of opposite sides of the truck and I cocked my head at Rome as we rounded the back. “You take the perimeter and let me go inside.”