SHOCK AND AWE (PREVIEW)

~ Derek ~

2008 - Falls Church, Virginia

“Mornin’ Boss.”

I am greeted upon entering the small kitchen. My body automatically moves towards the coffee maker. Glancing over, I see two of my operatives crowded around the small kitchen table, devouring plates of scrambled eggs and sausages while drinking from their own steaming mugs.

Lee “Mike” Mikhail and I served together during Desert Storm. The former Army medic is as gentle as he is lethal, the perfect combination to have in a private security operative. Sitting next to him is a former Marine sniper and our only female operative, Josephine Johnson. 

“Johnson. Mike,” I grunt in greeting, opening the cabinet directly above the coffee maker and blindly reaching for a mug. Instead, my hand hits bags of coffee beans. Looking up, I scowl at the cabinet I swear only yesterday held the essentials for drinking coffee. Now it contains everything you need for making it.

“Where the fuck are the mugs?” I demand, looking over at the table.

“Next one over,” Johnson says, waving her own mug towards the cabinet to my right.

Slamming the door shut, I open the next to see them neatly organized according to size and function, with the travel mugs on the top shelf. “Who the fuck moved them?” 

“B,” Mike answers. Looking over, I see him smiling into his own cup.

Bethany Colombo. 

For the past two years, the woman has unknowingly been tormenting me. 

Hiring Bethany to keep my private security company, Pride Security, running smoothly was both the best and worst thing I ever did. There is no question she’s the most reliable, especially considering recent events, and hardworking employee I have. If only she wasn’t wrapped up in such a sweet-smelling, amazing-assed, too young for me package. I hate and crave, in equal measure, each morning when she bounces through the back door. Bringing with her youthful energy, enthusiasm, and a perfect body - that full, round ass.

Taking a sip of coffee, I cringe at the taste, Bethany certainly didn’t make this pot. She may be strictly a tea drinker, but she brews the best damn coffee I’ve ever tasted. I bet she tastes even better - out of this world. Not that I’ll ever know. I lick my lips in vain.

Just as that frustrating thought comes to mind, I hear the back door open. The unmistakable sounds of Bethany shuffling around in the entryway can be heard, no doubt putting her purse in the closet and hanging up her jacket. Her light steps follow as she walks into the room, carrying a large colorful box of donuts.

“Good morning,” she chirps, her smile lighting up the room and grating on my nerves.

“Did you move the mugs?” I growl at her as the others greet her warmly.

“Yes. It’s more efficient,” she answers brightly placing the box on the counter, seemingly immune to my tone.

“Who gave you permission to reorganize my kitchen?” I ask, watching Bethany move around as if she owns the room. As if she belongs here.

Pushing past me, she grabs a large plate from one cabinet and napkins from a holder on the counter, answering, “You did.”

Why did I ever tell Bethany she could change anything she wanted? I’ve allowed her to put her stamp on the entire house. And the worst part is, Bethany has made it feel more like home than it ever did when my ex-wife and I lived here together.

“Are you trying to make them fat?” I ask, annoyed as she begins piling the plate with donuts.

“They’re just donuts,” she clips, not bothering to turn and look at me.

“They shouldn’t be eating all that fat and cholesterol.”

Whipping her head around to look at me, her eyes begin sparking, and she glares at me, asking, “What do you think is in those eggs and sausages?” 

“Protein,” I fire back.

“Mommy and daddy are fighting,'' I hear Mike chuckle quietly to Johnson. 

“What?” I snap, looking in his direction. They both avoid my eyes and focus on selecting a donut from the plate Bethany set down in front of them. 

Why am I arguing with her?

Maybe it’s because every time, like today, her thick honey-colored ponytail swings hypnotically and the green in her hazel eyes sparkle brightly as her emotions take over. There’s no question, I enjoy getting her riled up. Seeing her come alive and ready to attack. I need to stop before I begin imagining her in an entirely different tussle.

Naked.

My hand warming her round ass as it bounces. I wouldn’t want to spank the fight out of her, no, only stoke the flames where I could then fuck her into submission. My grip on the coffee mug tightens as I attempt to push away the inappropriate thoughts. I’m her boss for fuck’s sake.

I take a deep breath as Bethany steps close to me, invading my senses with her sweetness. She says in a low tone, “It’s not my fault Toby fucked up.”

Fucking Toby Lars.

Lars had been with the company since the beginning and was one of the first operatives I hired, but that didn’t stop me from firing his ass last night. Bethany was the first person I thought of to call, to help me deal with the mess. And not because she’s my assistant. In reality, I should’ve called Mike first. Since our client needed coverage after the asshole was fired. I ended up staying up most of the night working his shift, which is why I’m only now on my first cup of coffee.

“I know,” I murmur contrite, setting my mug down on the counter before thrusting my hands deep into my pockets to stop them from reaching out and touching her. Stroking her cheek, grabbing her by the back of the neck, and fusing my lips to her wet pouty ones.

Standing there gazing at one another for several long moments, her body sways towards mine. Grinding my teeth together, I can barely resist the urge to pull her into my arms.

“Tomorrow, I’ll bring in a fruit salad,” she announces cheerily to the room and moves away to pluck the last donut from the box. I watch as she takes a bite, her pink tongue darting out as she licks her lips. I need to get the fuck out of here.

“I’ll be in my office,” I tell everyone.

Grabbing my coffee mug, I make my way through what used to be my living room, but now, like most of the house, aside from the upstairs, is Pride Security headquarters. As I walk down the hall towards my office, I pass the surveillance room, which is filled with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment to help keep tabs on both our clients and my operatives. Next to my office is the small half bathroom. 

The house looks nothing like when my ex-wife and I lived here. I did my twenty in the Army, got out nearly unscathed, and had hoped to settle into civilian life. It wasn’t too late to start a family or find a new career. My ex had other plans. Unbeknownst to me, during my last tour in the Gulf, she had met someone and started an affair. I came home to broken promises, an empty house, and an uncertain future.

What began as people reaching out to me to see if I would be willing to provide private protection services for politicians that didn’t quite make the secret service’s radar and asking if I knew of any other veterans up to the task quickly morphed into Pride Security.

I tell myself we are using the house for operational security, as all our mail goes to a PO Box in Washington DC, and none of our clients know this address. But the truth is, there’s no way I could afford the rent on the kind of building I’d need and still pay my employees a decent salary. 

Here we have a basement, with a gym, armory, full bathroom, and a bunk room in case one of the operatives is on-call.

We also have a full kitchen that makes sure, when Bethany isn’t feeding them donuts, that everyone is maintaining their optimal health. My operatives are from all branches of the military, and the house gives them a place to spend time together, to maintain the comradery of being in a unit. Pride Security has come a long way since I founded the company three years ago, but I know we could be so much more.

Plopping down into the chair behind my desk, I grab the phone to begin the tedious process of alerting several clients to the changes in our schedule. I move pieces around to fill the hole that fucking Lars created by getting his ass fired. For the past year, I haven’t been working in the field but rather here in the office. That’s all about to change since we’re now a man down. Last night, Bethany and I talked on the phone for over an hour to quickly come up with a new schedule. Despite the circumstances, hearing her voice on the other end gave me a sense of peace. That everything would work out. When I finally fell asleep last night—this morning—it was to the memory of her soft “Night Derek” still in my ear.

* * *

“Lion,” I answer, leaning back in my chair and grabbing my ringing cellphone off the desk and picking up the unfamiliar number. 

“Mr. Lion, it’s Jason Roberts here,” a man says. The vestiges of a memory tease my brain until he continues. “We met through Senator Lewis, I’m an exhibit curator at the National History Museum.”

“Yes, of course, sir. How are you?” 

“Honestly, I’ve been better.” He pauses, taking a deep breath. “We have a situation here at the museum, and I was hoping you could help me out with it.”

Catching my interest, I sit up straighter in my chair and ask, “How can I help?”

The museum has a government security contractor already working on site. It makes me wonder what he could possibly need Pride Security for.

“I can count on your discretion, correct?”

“Of course,” I tell him, inexplicably annoyed at the man already. 

You fucking called me! 

“We’ve had a priceless artifact go missing, and we need it found before the exhibit opens next Friday,” he says breathlessly, his voice sounding nervous.

“Who’s running the investigation for the FBI?” I ask, grabbing a pen and beginning to mentally list everyone I know working there.

“That’s the thing, Mr. Lion,” he begins slowly, perking my interest even further. “We, the museum, can’t afford to let the owner know the item has gone missing. I was hoping you’d be able to recover it so no one would be the wiser.”

“Do you have a suspect in mind?” I ask, getting the feeling he may know who the culprit is already, and isn’t inclined to involve the authorities.

“I would never dream of accusing anyone,” he states primly.

“Of course not,” I pander to him, rolling my eyes to the empty office. “I’ll need details on the item that was stolen and when to begin our preliminary investigation, and then if I believe we can help, we’ll need to meet to finalize the contract.”

“Excellent,” he breathes with a sigh of relief.

I quickly jot down the relevant information about the item, some jeweled mask, and the circumstances surrounding its disappearance.

“I’ll look into this right away,” I tell him. “And I’ll have my assistant, Bethany, call you sometime tomorrow.”

Ending the call and tossing the cellphone onto the desk, I lean across and type a message onto my computer’s messaging program. Bethany installed it and insists I use it,  so I’m not yelling her name every time I need, want, to see her.

Derek: Bethany.

Bethany: Boss.

I would suggest we share an office, but then I’d be in hell all day, having her sweetness so close and not being able to do anything about it. It’s better she’s at her desk in what used to be the living room.

It’s several minutes before I hear a knock on the door.

“Yes.”

The door swings open, and Bethany is standing there, smiling and holding a mug that is curling with steam.

“You summoned me?” She asks, closing the door behind her and picking up my now cold mug of coffee and replacing it with the one from her hand.

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