Up in Smoke - Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

You can take the man out of the SEALs…

Connor Bannon stared across the empty conference room at the clock, watching the second hand tick past 3:00 p.m. Impatience prickled the back of his neck. He hated being late. Hated other people being late. If the navy had taught him one thing, it was how to show up on time. Even now, when his military career wasn’t even visible in the rearview mirror and the consequences weren’t nearly as severe, his ass showed up when it was supposed to. He couldn’t be late if he tried.

Apparently he’d been banished into the midst of an undercover squad that didn’t share the same quality.

Connor tapped his fist against his knee, breathing through the need to look at the clock again. The blank whiteboard and the room’s six empty chairs mocked him. He didn’t like going into meetings blind. It went against his nature to be unprepared, but he’d been given no choice. All he knew was Bowen Driscol and Seraphina Newsom were on the squad, sent from New York City to Chicago in exchange for favors, same as him. For the first time since his short-lived stint with the SEALs, he was going to be on the right side of the law.

Or the wrong side, depending on who was doing the asking.

He’d be working with cons, criminals who wanted to stay out of prison. That was where his knowledge started and ended, truly pissing him off. If they’d been given the same options as him, they’d decided helping the Chicago Police Department catch criminals such as themselves was the lesser of two evils.

Another valuable lesson he’d learned from the SEALs? If it doesn’t look like a bomb, it’s probably a bomb.

The door of the conference room flew open, crashing against the opposite wall. Connor’s hand flew toward the small of his back, searching futilely for his gun—a gun the uniforms had taken away from him upon arrival, dammit. He shot to his feet instead, focusing on the…threat?

“Relax, trigger. I like to make an entrance.”

A girl sauntered into the conference room, her combat boots jingling with each step, as if there were bells attached. She wore a shirt that said Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe over a pair of ripped jean shorts that ended just below her ass. An ass that he’d noticed even before he registered her bright pink hair. Who the fuck?

She tossed a frayed canvas bag onto the table and sprawled into the seat across from his currently empty one, head tilting slightly as she regarded him. Amusement transformed her features from merely beautiful to interesting and beautiful. From distracting to the distraction he didn’t need. Like she fucking needed the extra push.

Since when did he get mad at girls for being good-looking?

Very slowly, she looked him over. Connor felt her gaze slide over his crotch and bit back the urge to adjust himself, to hide the wood he’d sprung in honor of a girl who’d been in his presence for thirty seconds. He didn’t like this. Didn’t like feeling out of control of the situation. He let people see only what he allowed, but somehow this girl had walked into the room, said eight words, and thrown him off his game.

“Well.” She sat back in her chair and winked at him. “I guess the nickname ‘trigger’ is appropriate in more ways than one.”

Connor sat back down and dug his fingers into his knee, forcing himself to show no outward reaction. He hated the nickname she’d just christened him with, but he’d be damned before he let her know. “Your name, please.”

Her lips twitched. “So formal, aren’t you, baby?” A flicker of calculation entered her eyes before disappearing, but it told him to expect her next move. She dragged her full lower lip between her teeth and propped both feet up on the table, giving him a view of her thighs that clogged the breath in his throat. She crossed her feet at the ankles, but not before he glimpsed where those legs led. The tiny patch of denim covering her pussy. “Call me whatever you want. Just don’t expect me to answer.”

Jesus Christ. If she made him any harder, he’d have to excuse himself. “I wouldn’t say your name unless I had a good reason.”

She swayed her feet back and forth. “Give me your best one.”

The urge to shift in his seat was strong. “You’ve already looked right at it.”

Her feet stilled. He caught a flash of surprise and uncertainty,