Home > The Defender (Aces Book 5)(6)

The Defender (Aces Book 5)(6)
Author: Cristin Harber


He was about to give her the rundown of every odd thing he’d noticed in the last hour, but grappled to understand her underlying meaning. “You think I’m selfish?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you think I am?”

“No, but . . . I think,” she said after careful consideration, “that you do not have a driving obligation to anyone or anything besides yourself.”

For a fraction of a second, Spiker remained dumbfounded. He blinked. His lungs grew tighter until anger clogged his throat. “Says the sniper.”

Vanka’s face morphed, impenetrable, and Spiker knew his error before he took another breath. Fuck. They weren’t alone. Anyone could be on their radio channel. Spiker quickly tacked on a rambling run-on meant to camouflage his accusation.

She wasn’t impressed with his saving mentions of video game snipers. “I think you’ve proved my point.”





Two Days Later

GSI Headquarters, Virginia


Spiker and Vanka approached Buck Baer’s office door from opposite hallways, a setup that reminded him of a reality television show where contestants were pitted against each other.

She had eyed his shorts and T-shirt but now focused on the duffel bag he’d thrown over his shoulder. “What’s that for?”

Hell, Spiker should’ve told her what he’d decided to do. But their ride back to the East Coast had been tense. He’d talked to no one except for GSI’s HR department—which, now that he thought about it, was probably why they were both there now. “You have a minute to talk?”

She tersely reached for the door handle. “No.”

“My two favorites,” Buck called when the door cracked. “Get in here.”

She left the door open and left Spiker standing with a lot he should’ve already said. He rubbed the back of his neck and joined Vanka at the chairs in front of Buck’s oversized desk.

Their boss crumpled a yellow fast-food bag and chucked it toward a waste basket. It went wide and landed next to another balled-up wrapper.

Spiker dropped the duffel bag and eyed the collection of trash can misses. “Nice shot.”

Buck snorted. “We can’t all be Mr. All-American.”

Mr. All-American? That didn’t come close to describing him. But he could pull it off. Yet another Ken doll title he didn’t like.

“How was the mountain vacation?” Buck smirked.

Buck wanted to trade insults? Screw him. Spiker wasn’t in the mood. He had a plane to catch. “Kiss my ass.”

Buck laughed and choked on his coffee. The scent of whiskey hung in the air.

Spiker leaned back in his chair and wondered if that was a symptom of a bigger problem. “Easy there, big guy.”

"You two kill me.” Buck mopped his spittle with the back of his hand.

Wouldn’t that work out nicely? Spiker would make his flight out of the country and be on his sabbatical before Buck’s body temperature cooled. “You have us here. What do you want?”

Buck’s face soured, as if Spiker had cut off all his fun. “One more job.”

“Nope.” He didn’t have time for Buck’s games. “If you don’t already know, I’m on leave.”

Vanka swiveled in her chair. “Since when?”

Their boss pinched his fingers together and squinted at them in a way that could’ve annoyed a saint. “Consider it a tiny favor.”

Vanka pivoted back to Buck. “We don’t do favors. We follow procedures.”

Spiker gestured to his partner in agreement. “Yup.” Procedures said he was off work and didn’t have to stick around for much longer. “You’re biting into my time, boss. Officially.”

She turned back to him. “What are you talking about?”

Buck snorted. “I don’t give a fuck about your time.”

“Something new,” Spiker muttered.

Buck chuckled like his jackass notoriety was a badge of honor. Such a dick. Spiker chewed the inside of his cheek but offered a hint of tolerance. He was, after all, in the office already. “I’ll help for a couple hours. After that, I’m gone.”

“Consider yourself back on duty.”

His molars ground together. “For what?”

“A special project.”

Irritation knotted in his stomach. “Like the last one that nearly got us shot down?”

Buck snort-laughed. “You were gonna crash one way or another.”

Spiker hated Buck. He hated his new habit of assigning special projects. They were nightmares, with even fewer resources than usual. Whenever Buck framed them as favors, Spiker now read the jobs as skirting a questionable line.

Damn it. Spiker wasn’t in the slightest mood for this shit. There was a private island waiting for his arrival. If he closed his eyes—and ignored Buck’s boozy orders—Spiker could almost sense the sun-warmed, coconut-rum-scented air flowing over his bare shoulders at an island bar. Torches would light the nights. The days would be lazy and far, far away from GSI and Buck Baer.

“What’s the job?” Vanka asked.

Spiker groaned. If he’d talked to her about this before, she wouldn’t have asked that.

“Ever heard of a heist operator that goes by Robin Hood?” Buck asked.

What was this? Storytime? He refocused his attention and zeroed in on Buck. “No.”

“What’s Robin Hood?” Vanka asked.

Fuckin’ hell, Spiker needed the break. Storytime villains had caught her attention.

“Thought you’d never ask.” Buck leaned back in his chair. The thick leather ground under his weight. A smarmy grin blossomed on his ruddy face. “Robin Hood is a thief that has operated for decades.”

“A thief?” Vanka repeated with the same level of confusion Spiker felt.

They didn’t deal with petty crimes and rinky-dink problems that local police could handle. Spiker tamped his growing aggravation down into something that resembled a chuckle. “Someone steal something of yours, boss?”

Buck laughed along with Spiker. His dark, unruly eyebrows jerked together, though he tried to join in the joke with an amicable chortle.

Vanka tittered, “Missing a bazooka?”

“A tank?” Spiker shrugged.

“If that were the case” —Buck simmered down— “I would’ve called you two in long before now.”

“So why bring us in on a thief?” Vanka asked.

Buck steepled his fingers and groused, “This Robin Hood fellow likes to take things back.”

She and Spiker missed whatever point Buck was trying to make.

“Like Robin Hood.” Buck rolled his hand as though they should get it. “Who takes from the wealthy and gives to the poor.”

“A thief that gives to the poor . . . ?” Vanka asked slowly. “Er, well.” She lifted her palms up. “Gives what, exactly?”

Buck shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

She crossed her legs slowly and pointedly added, “Yes, it might.”

“Crap from museums. The kind of stuff that you”—Buck gestured to Vanka—“know in your sleep.”

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