The Mercenary Next Door (Rogues and Rescuers #2) - Lucy Leroux
Mason jerked, his eyes flying open as the brakes of the bus squealed. The lumbering vehicle came to a stop. He grabbed his pack and stood, exiting into the drizzling rain.
Rolling his shoulders, he drew the hood of his jacket up, trying not to be annoyed. I just spent three weeks in a rainforest. He should have been used to it. But rain in Los Angeles was a rarity. Finding it here had been a less-than-pleasant welcome home.
The city needs it. It always did. But that was cold comfort as a fat drop managed to work its way inside his collar, dripping down his neck and under his shirt.
Next time, I’ll stash my car at the airport’s long-term parking, he told himself, aware it was a lie. The bus stopped just a few blocks from his apartment. It seemed stupid to pay the parking fees when he could just ride home after an op.
You can afford it, a little voice told him. But the habits of a lifetime were hard to break. He was no longer a towheaded punk kid in the backwoods of Tennessee, scrabbling for every crumb. His missions paid well, and he saved every cent. For what… he didn’t know, but it was secure in the bank until he figured out what to spend it on.
The few precious things he bought stayed under lock and key—like his car. He didn’t mean for it to happen, but Mason didn’t question the instinct to hoard what he valued.
“What’s the point of having a cherry sixty-nine Camaro if you never use it?” Ethan, one of his buddies, would ask.
“How do you think it stays cherry?” Mason would reply before changing the subject. A car like that was a magnet for thieves. It was safer in his gated slot in the basement when he was away.
The Camaro had been his first big purchase with his Auric Security paycheck. Most people who found out he worked in “security” assumed he was a bodyguard to the stars. He had the build and height for it. Plus, this was L.A., and he made those wraparound sunglasses look pretty damn good. Enough for people to come up to him and ask him what TV show he was shooting.
As if on cue, his mind flashed back to the jungle. The firefight outside that little village had been brutal. His other buddy, Ransom, had been shot, but Mason’s elite Auric team didn’t get paid the big bucks for nothing. They’d gotten their man out in one piece—mostly—and accomplished their mission, the extraction of a kidnapped oil executive and his wife. And Ransom hadn’t been hit bad—just a flesh wound. He’d heal up in no time.
Mason had been telling himself that for a while, but his mind couldn’t stop replaying the moment Ransom was shot. His friend was a bit of a hotdog. He’d been voted the squad’s most likely to get shot three years running, but, this time around, Ransom had been tight, following orders flawlessly.
That was probably why it bugged Mason so much. They could train and run drills until their limbs gave out, but in their line of work, that meant jack. People could do everything right, yet still end up catching a bullet.
Ransom’s injury had been a signal to the powers-that-be at Auric that Mason’s team needed rest. They’d been on back-to-back missions for three months straight without a break. It was in the company’s best interests to ensure their highest performing team didn’t burn out.
The furlough had been unexpected, but he was going to make the most of it. A lot of his team lived locally, and tearing up L.A. with them was fun, but with this much time on his hands, he could finally see Ethan in Boston, maybe even visit a few of his cousins back home. One had a new baby. He should pay his respects to the new family member while he could.
His mind full of plans, Mason rounded the corner. His building rose on the far corner. It was one of those utilitarian seventies’ monstrosities—completely hideous by today’s standards, but it was secure and relatively inexpensive. He could have moved to a much nicer place long before now, but saving money was second nature.
Growing up dirt poor will do that to you. But he wasn’t poor anymore. Quite the contrary. And though it was economical, his space had lots of light with a loft bedroom over an open living room and kitchen space. Mason had filled it with