“Are you shitting me?” Travis growled. He stood glaring at the coffee machine that was on its last legs.
He had an important meeting to get to and refused to start his day without caffeine.
Running his hands over his chin, he eyed the contraption again as if his piercing gaze would magically get the damn thing to work.
“Don’t be so mean to it.” AD chuckled and stopped next to Travis. He elbowed him out of the way and set his mug down on the break room’s counter. “You got to give it a little tender loving care.”
“I don’t have time for this shit,” Travis grumbled. He held his cup and watched as AD gave the machine a firm slap on the side.
Well, hot damn.
The coffee machine sputtered to life. The inner workings burbled sounds, and within seconds the first few drops of the coveted dark liquid gold emerged.
“I’ll be nice today and let you get the first cup.” AD waved for Travis to help himself. The flow of the coffee picked up.
“You are a good man,” Travis announced. He moved the carafe and placed his mug underneath the spout. “I was two seconds from shooting the place up.”
“I can tell.” AD grinned and resting against the counter, waiting for his turn.
Travis paused until his cup was practically full, then replaced the carafe. He moved away to allow AD to fill up his mug.
He leaned back and took a sip. The strong brew was just how he liked it.
Black as his soul.
“I hear we have an interview today with a candidate for the coordinator position.” AD glanced over at Travis.
“Yeah, I heard the same.” Travis checked his watch. They had a few minutes until they were to report in the conference room.
Travis Barnes had worked for Eagle Force Security since his honorable discharge from the Marines. Eagle Force was a well-established cyber security company with a strong reputation for being the best in the business.
At least it appeared to be.
The true nature of the business was government contracts for off-the-books missions. Dangerous ones where each man knew what he was getting into.
If they were caught, the government would deny everything.
Travis was a decorated soldier who was still able to do what he did best.
Protect the amazing country he loved.
Only this time, it was on US soil.
The Eagle Force was run by former Marine Major Leo Russell. He retired and began this company and immediately had a roster of men who were all former military.
“We might as well head on in there.” AD motioned to the door. AD, real name Aubrey Dennis, had been employed at the company longer than Travis. He, too, a former Marine. Travis was sure it was why he and AD had hit it off immediately.
They traveled from the break room and headed down the hall where they were to gather. Leo would be with the applicant first before bringing the person over to speak with the team.
The position was empty when their former department coordinator left, taking a job with the FBI.
Leo had to get someone in immediately. Their office was going to shit fast, and if someone didn’t accept the job, they were going to be in a world of trouble.
They filed into the room and spread out around the long table. Travis nodded to other members of the team, taking his seat. AD sat next to him.
Titus, former Navy SEAL, sat back and rested his heels on the table. Deacon, also a SEAL, sat near him. His dark baseball cap was resting on his head backwards.
Walker, discharged from the Army, while Colton was from the Air Force. Each man who sat at the table was a trusted team member.
In the few years he had worked with them, Travis had come to know each member well, and they were a close-knit group.
“Anyone want to take a bet that if we hire the new girl, she won’t last long?” Deacon broke the silence.
“How did you know it’s a woman?” Travis asked. He took another sip of his coffee and settled back in his chair. Their last coordinator, Brian, had come across a great opportunity, and none of them blamed him for moving on to a new position.
“I saw her when Leo was leading her into his office.” Deacon grinned. He raised his bottle of water.
Travis rolled his eyes listening to the laughter the went around the room.
“You don’t think she would last long?” Colton asked. He rubbed his hands together.
Travis could already see the gleam in Colton’s eyes, that the guys would be placing bets soon. Brian had been good at his job, and that was why the FBI was able to scoop him up from the Eagle Force.
Travis had no desire to meet with whoever the person was. All he cared about was if they met the qualifications, were tough, headstrong, and wouldn’t take any bullshit.
“Her résumé is actually impressive,” Walker announced. He picked up a piece of paper resting on the table in front of him and studied it.
Voices and footsteps echoed down the hall. Leo’s gruff voice carried as he spoke. The hairs on the back of Travis’s neck rose. His gut clenched, and he was unsure why he had these feelings.
He couldn’t remember the last time he was nervous about anything.
He frowned, his gaze landing on Leo as he paused in the doorway. He was a tall man, broad shoulders, with dark hair and a few strands of gray. His piercing gaze scanned the room as if he had to make sure they all were present.
“Gentlemen, thanks for being on time. Please let me introduce you to our candidate.” Leo stepped fully into the room and waved for the person behind him to come forward.
His eyes locked on the one person he never would have thought would be stepping foot in this building.
He didn’t hear a word Leo said. He was too busying staring at the woman smiling at everyone. Her gaze landed on him, and she paused. A fleeing look of pain appeared on her face, and within seconds it was gone.
Kassidy. Fucking. Davis.
She was the younger sister of his best friend, Dwane. The last time he’d seen Kass was at Dwane’s funeral.
Travis swallowed hard. Pain rippled through is chest at the thought of his best friend, his brother.
Since Dwane’s death, Travis had been unable to face his family. It was too hard for him. He felt as if he’d failed his other family. He and Dwane had grown up together, barely spending any time apart.
Dwane’s family was his family, and he couldn’t get past the guilt.
The year of Dwane’s death had been the last year he’d served as a Marine. He and Dwane had been lucky. They had joined the Marines straight out of high school. Together they had moved through the ranks, deployed at the same time and fought side by side.
The day Dwane died, Travis had been right there with him.
Travis had taken his honorable discharge papers and moved back home.
He had heard Kass lived in Atlanta but had not realized she was back in Austin. Kass had always been a beauty.
She was D-Man’s little sister.
There was no question that meant she was off limits. Kass was ten years their junior. When she was younger, she’d idolized Dwane. The two Davis children were as close as a sister and brother could be.
Travis could remember Dwane’s anxiety about Kassidy going to prom. He’d made Travis come over so they could put the fear of God into her date. The poor kid had practically shit himself.
Dwane had always been there for Kassidy. When they were deployed, Kassidy always wrote to Dwane, sharing with him her antics, her life in college, and the men she was dating. Dwane talked nonstop about his sister.
Travis swallowed hard.
He had held his best friend while he had struggled to take his last breath. His brown eyes, racked with pain, held steady as he’d stared at Travis. They had been deep in the deserts of Afghanistan. Nothing but sand miles around them when their Humvee was hit by an unseen IED. Travis had dragged his fatally injured friend from the vehicle to a safe distance.
“Look out for Kass.” Dwane’s lips trembled. He gripped on to Travis’s hand. Even facing death, Dwane was thinking of others. That was the type of man he was.
“Of course, man. Just until you get home.” Travis tried to smile, wanting to encourage Dwane. He didn’t want to think of his friend not arriving home on his two feet.
“Promise me.” Dwane wheezed. The death rattle was consuming him. A thick drop of blood appeared at the corner of his lips. It skated down his chin, disappearing from Travis’s view.
“I got you, man.” A tear slid down his cheek. The light faded from Dwane’s eyes. His body went limp.
Dwane was gone.
Travis blinked, bringing himself back to the present.
Remorse filled him that he hadn’t even called her. Trying to find something for him to do instead of stare at her, he reached for the paper placed on the table before him.
It was Kassidy’s CV. He scanned it quickly and took in that she had great experience and references.
But what they did, it would be too dangerous for her.
He couldn’t allow Dwane’s baby sister to work here.
Glancing around the room, he saw plenty of interest in his team members’ eyes.
He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted to punch them all in the face. These were men he had gone on very dangerous missions with, risked their lives together, and here he was, wanting to do them bodily harm for eyeing Kassidy.
It was settled. She couldn’t work here and have his men sniffing around her.
Their eyes met.
Leo did introductions.
She scowled at Travis, the expression the same as Dwane’s. He knew his face reflected the same. It was an automatic response. When she was a kid, he was always irritated by her presence. Her expression disappeared just as quick as it appeared.
No, he was going to put his foot down and go speak with Leo.
Then he was going to speak with her after she left.
The interview went smoothly. He sat back, not asking anything. He nodded politely when each of them asked her a question.
Her smile captivated the room, and her slightly husky voice had his cock taking notice.
What. The. Fuck.
Kassidy Davis was hands off.
“Any other questions?” Leo asked. His gaze landed on Travis, the man pausing for a moment as if double-checking since Travis hadn’t asked one question.
He shook his head and leaned back in his chair.
There was no point when he didn’t want her working here in the first place. He was going to go have a chat with Leo, then Kassidy once she left.
“Well, it was so nice to meet all of you.”
The screeching of the chairs on the floor broke through Travis’s thoughts. He glanced around and saw everyone standing. He pushed off and stood, snagging his empty mug.
His scowl deepened as he watched his coworkers gather around Kassidy like schoolboys trying to get her attention.
“Hope this works out for you,” Titus’s deep voice rumbled. The big man shook Kassidy’s hand.
“Thanks.” Her warm smile spread across her face.
A hint of jealousy spread through Travis.
Why had she never smiled at him like that?
Oh, yeah. He hadn’t been around in a while.
“Good luck.” Walker took her hand in a shake before he, too, exited the room.
Each member of the Eagle Force repeated the same, murmuring well-wishes then leaving until it was only Kassidy, Travis, and Leo who remained.
Leo turned to Travis. His attentive gaze never missed anything.
“I’m already aware you two know each other,” Leo began.
“That we do,” Kass murmured, her smile fading. She glanced at him, and a glint of pain entered her eyes. She blinked and looked to Leo.
“Yeah, we do. She grew up next door to me.” Travis cleared his throat that was suddenly dry. Now that he was up close to her, he was able to drink her in. She was certainly no longer the younger tween who’d followed him and Dwane everywhere.
Kassidy Davis was all woman.
Her curves should be illegal. Her dress was office appropriate, but it did nothing to hide her plump breasts and womanly hips. Her big brown eyes were something he could become lost in. Her makeup was light, hinting that it wasn’t really needed.
He refused to look down at her heels. He was already having a hard enough time controlling his body around her. There was no way he was taking in the heels that apparently were giving her a little extra height.
“Well, if she’s hired, I hope it won’t be a problem.” Leo waved for Kass to step through the doorway.
She glanced at him again then left with Leo.
Travis ran a hand along his face and blew out a deep breath. He stomped through the halls and went to his office.
He was going to have a little chat with Leo the moment Kassidy was gone.
* * *
He stopped at the sound of his name. He was on a mission to go speak with Leo. He turned and found Deacon walking down the hall toward him. Eagle Force was located in an undisclosed small building. It was decorated in soft-tone colors. It would appear as any other office building, except for the lower level.
Only those with a certain security clearance were allowed there.
They each helped with the front of the company being a security firm. With their vast military experience, it made them all experts, and they worked a few contract jobs to help keep up the farce.
Deacon, former Navy SEAL, walked like a predator. He could be a mean son of a bitch, but there was no other man that Travis would trust to have watch his six but Deacon.
“Just wondered why you were mean-mugging the girl earlier.” Deacon stopped a few feet from him and leaned against the wall. “Is there something you know about her that wasn’t on her background check?”
Travis blew out a deep breath and shook his head.
How could he explain his history with Kass?
“No, there’s nothing to her. She’s a good girl and the sister of my close friend.”
Deacon’s eyes dropped to Travis’s wrist.
Dwane’s initials were tattooed there.
Travis fought the urge to rub the area.
After his friend’s death, he’d had the Marine logo with his friend’s initials and death date. It was his way to always have a constant reminder of his friend.
“That friend?” Deacon’s voice was low.
“Yeah. Look, I got to meet with Leo.” Travis didn’t feel like trying to explain himself. He backed away and turned, ignoring the questions in Deacon’s eyes.
Travis arrived at Leo’s office and nodded to his secretary, Lisa.
“Hey, Travis. You can go in. He’s expecting you.” Lisa smiled. She reached for the ringing telephone on her desk and answered it.
Travis walked past her desk and stopped at the closed door. He knocked once before entering.
His boss was a hard-nosed Marine who didn’t take any shit.
But neither did Travis, and he’d be damned if Dwane’s kid sister worked here.
He’d have to keep thinking of her as the kid sister, because the woman who’d presented herself today was a knockout.
“I was wondering how long it was going to take you to come in here.” Leo leaned back in his monstrous leather chair. The room was decorated with shelves with books, awards and accolades from his military days. It was clean, organized, and matched the man behind the large desk.
“You can’t hire Kass,” Travis cut straight to the point. He stood in front of Leo’s desk and rested his hands on the dark wood. He met Leo’s hard gaze head-on.
“I have to tell you that you have big balls, Barnes.” Leo rested the tips of his fingers together in a steeple form. “In case you forgot, I own this company and decide who I will and won’t hire.”
“Anyone but her,” Travis growled.
“She’s the best candidate we’ve gotten.”
“It’s too dangerous for her to be associated with this company.” Travis’s muscles tightened. He had to make his boss see that he couldn’t have Kassidy here. She needed to work somewhere he wouldn’t have to worry about her. She could work in some plush business office in downtown Austin.
“She’s Dwane’s sister. You can keep an eye on her.”
That shut Travis up. He focused on the window behind Leo. There wasn’t any way that Leo would know what Dwane had asked of him. Hell, Leo knew Dwane. The two of them had been recruited by
Leo himself before they had even hung up their boots.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Travis questioned.
“Nothing. This is none of your business. Is there anything else I can do for you?” Leo’s voice dropped to a low calm.
Travis knew he had overstepped his boundaries. Leo was a level-headed boss, but he had one hell of a temper.
“No.” Travis spun around on his heel and stormed out of the office.