Fortune's Soldier by Sarah Luddington Book Tour and Giveaway :)
I SLEPT ON THE FLIGHT, all the way, my cock and brain quiet for the duration. I’d found a naughty little minx who proved to be bendy and fun, not the type I usually liked but he’d made me laugh and I did precious little of that so we’d had a good time. When I touched down in Heathrow I relaxed while going through security, my gym bag remained hidden in my bus station locker at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I chose the location to keep my gear safe because bus stations are far more anonymous than airports. I could leave a bag for weeks before I needed it again and no one checked the lockers. Airports were different, especially in New York, with heavy CCTV and regular patrols with dogs, so leaving something that smelt of gun oil would not be prudent. When I left the bus station I yellow cabbed it to JFK looking like any other businessman in the airport. Arriving in London, expecting to take the train into the city, I found a man with a card and my name written on it – printed not handwritten. The weird chills up my back turned into a gut crawling suspicion. Who wanted me back in the UK with such desperation? Why did they have my fucking name on a card in thick black print? I didn’t like anyone announcing my presence in a public place, this might be England but there were hostile eyes on even in Heathrow and broadcasting a covert operative’s name, even if they were retired, was just plain wrong. “This way, sir,” said the clipped English accent. The man wore a nondescript chauffeur’s uniform but he walked with military precision and watched the crowd like I would if I weren’t busy watching him. It didn’t feel right being angry with him, orders were orders and he’d been given the card. I kept my thoughts quiet and private. I didn’t bother wasting energy asking questions, he wouldn’t give me answers and it would irritate me further not getting them. We drove into the centre of Westminster, which took seventy-three minutes on a Friday afternoon in the summer, and he parked in an underground car park in Horseferry Road, near the Home Office. My gut tugged hard. The chills up my spine turned into a full skin crawl and I couldn’t help watching the cameras following my progress behind the chauffeur as he led me into the office complex. I felt like giving the cameras the finger but I’d left that juvenile behaviour behind when I’d left the idiot who would have given the finger regardless. I entered the elevator and we rode in silence for three floors. We were above ground level and when I stepped out of the shiny new metal box I found myself overlooking St. John’s Gardens. “This way, Sergeant,” said the chauffeur. I followed. We walked along a blue carpet, offices on my right, windows on my left, exits marked with green signs and people in suits looking busy. So far not a military uniform in sight but I could feel them everywhere. Each person we passed in the corridor had the bearing, the spine held tighter than civilians did, especially when they worked crouched over computers all day. These people all had a sense of purpose and very little wasted movement or chatter. It spoke of more officialdom than I wanted in my life. My jaw began to tick as my teeth clenched. The chauffeur opened a door ushering me through. “In here, sir. I’ll let them know you’ve arrived.” “Thanks,” I said. A man stood at a table covered in coffee and tea making facilities. He hummed and poured too much sugar into his coffee. The set of the shoulders, the narrow hips and wide shoulders, the short dark hair, with a sprinkle more of grey, it all set me off. My instincts screamed at me to run, but whether towards him or away I wasn’t sure. Then he turned. His eyes widened the moment they met mine. So blue. So very blue. The coffee bounced in his hand, sloshing over the top. “Fuck me,” he muttered, rescuing the cup and shaking off the burn. It had been just over five years since I’d heard him scream that in our bed. He’d been begging me to after one of my extended blowjobs. “Sam,” I croaked, then coughed to hide the emotion choking me, sweat broke out on my palms and spine. “Samuel, it’s been a while.” I fought to close down. “Luke, I…” He’d gone very pale and his hand trembled. Nothing put fear into Sam like emotion. It’s why he’d left me in the end, that and the gun I’d pointed at his head. He couldn’t handle the emotional cost of his actions. Mind you neither could I when it all exploded. If we’d had a grenade in the bedroom that day it would have done less damage. “Coffee?” he asked. “Not one of yours,” I said, stepping fully into the room. He watched me, but kept well out of reach. I approached the table covered in drinks and as it turned out, food, but we didn’t speak. I could do with something more substantial than a croissant but scran is scran. “What are we doing here?” I asked, plonking a pastry on a plate and not looking at him. If I worked hard I might find I could ignore him to the point he vanished. “Thought you might be able to tell me that,” he replied. “I don’t know anything, but as we’re both here I’ll be turning the job down. I don’t work for the British Army and I’ve no intention of going anywhere with you,” I said, tearing the head off the innocent pastry and biting down on it. I could smell his cologne, the same one he always wore, and I had to admit he looked good. Rested. A slight softness to him that hadn’t been there five years before, but Sam had always liked his food and hated exercise for its own sake. “Really?” he snapped, the Texan accent dragging me back to another time and place. “It’s been five years, Luke, you sure you can’t hang on to your grudge a bit longer? Let it fester a bit more? After all, forgiveness is something you’re so good at.” Okay, we were heading for the rocks after thirty seconds. Had to be a record even for us. “Fuck you, Sam.” The door opened. “I rather hoped you two could bury your hatchet long enough to not be fucking anyone, including each other,” a woman’s voice cracked through the room, more able to silence us than a bullet to the head. We both straightened and I felt my hand twitch with the need to salute, fortunately the croissant stopped me. “Major Brant,” I said, eyes forward, spine and thoughts instantly focused on the small, lithe woman standing in front of us. Her brown eyes were hard, the smattering of freckles over her nose blending with the tanned skin and despite being ten years my senior, every fibre in her five foot six inch frame, had lost none of its purpose. Her short cropped hair contained no grey but the brown colour was no longer natural. “Sergeant Luke Sinclair, it’s good to see you again. And it’s now Colonel Brant,” she said, walking between myself and Sam. “Congratulations, ma’am,” I said. “Thank you.” “Suck up,” muttered Sam. “Fuck off,” I muttered in return. Colonel Brant sighed. “It’s good to see you as well, Sergeant Samuel Locke.” “Why am I here?” Sam asked. He didn’t even attempt to show her respect. He might have snapped straight out of instinct when she walked in the room but he wasn’t going to let her control him if he could fight her. That was Sam all over. She glanced at him and I could see her need to rise to the challenge of taming her tiger. It’s what she’d called us once, her tigers. She let us off our leashes to hunt for her, returning to her with prizes. We’d all be very drunk at the time but it had stuck, they’d been intense but good years working for her in British Military Intelligence and Unit Twelve specifically. We were the blunt instrument the other agencies – MI5, MI6, and Special Branch at a push – used to hunt down and remove threats to the UK and Europe. We were frequently aligned with US interests, but due to the lack of oversight Unit Twelve often enjoyed and the small size of our team, we were able to do the jobs other branches of the military couldn’t do in places they really shouldn’t be doing them. Unit Twelve’s origins were murky and Brant’s teams rarely worked together, but wherever she sent us there was little doubt we were needed. Sam, being an ex-SEAL, wasn’t a normal recruit for the Unit, but he thrived in the unique environment. Every member came from Special Forces or found themselves pulled from the Parachute Regiment, including the women. Her eyes found mine. “Thank you for coming on such short notice, Luke. You’re not an easy man to track down.” “You’re still paying me right?” I asked. Sam’s expression darkened. “You’re a merc?” Shit. I didn’t want him knowing anything about my life. “None of your damned business.” He barked a laugh. “You’re a fucking hypocrite.” “Yeah, well, at least I’m not king of the fucking doughnuts,” I muttered. It was a low shot and he knew it but it worked. He took a step closer to me, his blue eyes sparkling with anger, those wide shoulders tipping forwards and preparing for a fight. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? It’s been five fucking years –” “Four years, eleven months,” I snapped. “And three days,” he shot back. My eyes widened. He kept track? I did because he was right, I was a fucking idiot who didn’t let shit go and my shit with Sam was the deepest I’d ever ended up in and I’d been to some shitty places in the world. “Gentlemen,” Brant said, stepping between us. Despite being almost a full foot shorter than either of us, she dominated the fractious space. “I need your heads in the game, not on each other. I would suggest couple’s therapy but I don’t think there is a therapist in the world who could help you two.” I drew in a sharp breath and stepped back, my heart pounded, my gut soured and my hands shook. I thought it was rage, I was pretty sure it was rage and anger and hurt and grief for what I’d lost but looking into his face… He’d shaved, the dark stubble usually making him look like the rogue he was, gone for a few hours at least. The crooked nose, from being broken several times over the years, made him appear more savage than soldier. How many times had I kissed that nose? He studied me in turn and I wondered what he saw, had I changed much? I didn’t think so, but my joints were older and slower, even if it didn’t show on my face. It took too much effort but I forced my attention to the colonel. “Why are we here?” “I need you to retrieve someone from Syria,” Brant said. I focused on her. “Syria?” “Yes, and need I remind you that you are still covered by the Official Secrets Act?” she asked, preparing a cup of coffee for herself. “Um, sure,” Sam said, plonking his arse down on a table. His well-worn jeans tightened over his thighs and he smirked when he caught me looking. I wanted to growl in anger. “What I am about to disclose does not leave this building,” she said, looking us both in the eye and concentrating fully on impressing us with the seriousness of the situation. We both nodded like good little ducklings. “In a refugee camp in Syria we’ve found Angelica Snow.” My internal wheels raced, hit a muddy patch and kept spinning, sucked down by the name that haunted too many of my white ceiling moments in the dark of the night. Sam let a whistle relieve him of tension. I sat and tried to deepen my breathing. We both carried too many physical and emotional scars from the last time we’d tangled with Angelica Snow.