Home > The Defender (Aces Book 5)(7)

The Defender (Aces Book 5)(7)
Author: Cristin Harber

“Let me get this straight.” Spiker inched to the edge of his chair. “You’re telling me that I won’t be on an island because you have a problem with a museum thief—who gives to the poor?”

Vanka snickered. “Is this some kind of joke?”

Spiker glared. Had Buck come up with this to screw with him for requesting an extended leave? He crossed his arms.

“What was that movie?” Vanka’s laughter grew, and she turned to Spiker. “The one with the treasure map on the back of the Constitution?”

He had no idea and didn’t care. Vanka was as close to the truth as his guess had been, but she found the situation hilarious. “We’re going on a treasure hunt.”

“No, we’re not,” Spiker muttered. He was going on vacation.

“If there’s a treasure map—she held up her hands—“that would beat a vacation any day.”

Buck groused. “There’s not a damn treasure map. What are you two, children?”

Her nose scrunched as though her lips had curled around a lemon slice. Vanka didn’t take well to reprimands. She crossed her arms with prim disdain. “No.”

“Now listen up. Robin Hood is a complete ghost. He will require all your expertise.” Buck scowled as if that they hadn’t realized the magnitude of their assignment. “No one has been able to nail this devil, and I need it done.”

“You want us to put a bullet between Robin Hood’s eyes?” Her gaze narrowed. “That’s quite a punishment for a crime I don’t entirely understand.”

“Robin Hood steals stolen art and the like.”

Spiker’s eyebrows arched. “Say again.”

“You heard me,” Buck snapped. “And you’re gonna smoke the bastard out.”

Silence settled over them. He and Vanka had found more than their fair share of people who lived in the shadows. They could hunt down wisps, traces, and glimmers of evil. More often than not, their assignments pushed them to complete tasks that were far beyond locating a person.

But in all those cases, Spiker understood the justification. He appreciated the greater good of society. Evil walked the earth in the form of dictators, rapists, and traffickers. He and Vanka had the uncanny ability to eliminate those threats without the baggage that could come from finite solutions provided by more official channels. But they had never hunted down an art hound, and they certainly didn’t do it when Spiker was supposed to be on sabbatical.

“Why now?” Spiker asked.

“Because I said.”

A low hum of disapproval vibrated from Spiker’s throat.

“And,” Buck added, “because you’re the best.”

“Don’t blow smoke up our arses,” Vanka said.

Buck readjusted himself and pulled the executive chair closer to the desk. After taking a long swig of his spiked coffee, he sank his elbows onto the top of the polished wood desk, like concrete pillars driven into a riverbed. “There’s a world of clientele that is there for the taking, so long as we prove ourselves.”

Alarm bells clanged in Spiker’s head. He tapped his teeth together. This was the type of problem that had bothered him about their firm. Spiker saw—or thought he saw—the direction GSI was leaning in recent years, but until right now, he hadn’t been one hundred percent certain that Buck worked both sides of the line.

“Sorry—” Vanka turned to Spiker. “Did I hear this right?”

He wasn’t sure what to say. In the end, everything probably came down to money. They were handsomely paid. Obscenely. The jobs weren’t always black or white. Shades of gray existed. Spiker knew that, though he didn’t weigh himself down with the degrees of right and wrong. All of their jobs were sort of good. They were on the right side of hard, sometimes lethal, choices that had to be made.

This couldn’t be one of those times. “I need to understand this. Prove ourselves to who?”

“Never mind,” Buck backtracked. “That came out all wrong.” He laid his heavy chin on his fists and shifted his weight onto his elbows. “This is simple. We find the asshole who’s stealing from—”

“We heard you.” Vanka’s eyes narrowed. “Stealing something that has already been stolen?”

“Exactly. Find the cause of the headache and fix it. I want a name and a face first.” Buck waved his hand. “Intel is everything. Asset protection is secondary.”

Vanka’s lemon-pursed lips hadn’t relaxed. “So it’s like were the police.”

Buck nodded. “With a global jurisdiction.”

This wasn’t a job that would wrap in a couple hours or even days. Spiker could feel his island getaway slipping through his fingers.

“Do this, and, fuck it.” Buck dropped a meaty fist on his desk. “Take the whole year off. With pay. I don’t care. Just get it done.”

“All right.” Vanka pushed to the edge of her seat as if the promise of money had the power to end this agonizing meeting. “We’ll do it.”

Spiker’s glare snapped to her. Of course they were going to do it, but couldn’t she have bitched and groaned a little more about his canceled mega-vacation? Their mind-reading abilities weren’t up to snuff.

“I don’t know shit about art,” Spiker pointed out.

Buck pointed his index finger at Vanka. “She knows enough about everything to make up for the entire damn office. You run point.”

Spiker rested the back of his head against the chair and couldn’t recall how the coconut air would smell at his tropical paradise. Reality crashed over him. He didn’t have a home base or even a vehicle right now. It wasn’t as if sabbaticals were the standard two weeks’ vacation. He’d taken months off, and in doing so, given a trusted contractor permission to shred his lake house and rebuild it from the studs up. “Where will we be based out of?”

“Wherever,” Buck replied.

“How long? I don’t have a crash pad at the moment,” Spiker added.

“Why?” Vanka asked.

Spiker shrugged. “Major construction.”

“You really were going to take off.” Her eyebrows arched. “As in, whoosh, vanish, for what? Weeks? Months?”

“Yeah,” he admitted.

“You didn’t tell me—” She corrected herself. “You never take time off.”

“You two bicker like a sexless married couple.” Buck chuckled. “Stay with Vanka. You two get things done faster when you’re attached at the hip. Finish up and get on the first flight to Tahiti or wherever.”

“No,” they said in unison.

Buck laughed. “Fine, what do I care? Waste your precious few minutes commuting.”

Spiker and Vanka had spent the night together on mountainsides, in war zones, and in lavishly decadent hotels. They’d been undercover as family and as lovers, they’d spotted for each other’s sniper shots and feigned very intimate moments. But they’d never crossed the invisible threshold and shared their homes. Odd, now that he thought about it.

He glanced at her and saw in her reaction the same reservations he had.

“Fine,” she agreed. “He’ll stay with me.”

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