Home > The Defender (Aces Book 5)(8)

The Defender (Aces Book 5)(8)
Author: Cristin Harber

“What?” Spiker choked.

Buck pushed away from the desk and retrieved a legal-size bundle bound by rubber bands. “This is everything you’ll need.”

Vanka scowled. “That’s not much.”

“Wait a minute.” The conversation gave Spiker whiplash. “I didn’t agree to stay—”

“That’s what’s known about Robin Hood. Find him.” Buck gestured to the package and then to Spiker. “And get rid of him.”

Vanka took the files. “Fine.”

“Fine.” Buck grinned like a fuckin’ loon. “Git ’er done and have some fun.” With a tilt of his coffee mug, their boss offered insincere cheers and chugged the last of his whiskey.





Their drive up I-95 north had crept far into its second hour. Spiker needed to escape the passenger seat of Vanka’s Audi. The seatbelt cut into his neck and trapped him like he was in a leather-covered prison on wheels. The farther they drove from GSI’s office, the more real the situation became. Spiker wouldn’t be on the beach by the end of the day. He grumbled.

“Sorry? Did you say something? Or are you still acting like a petulant child?”

“Remind me to ask the same thing next time Buck vetoes your vacation.”

“A sabbatical isn’t a vacation,” she snapped.

She was still pissed. Good. He was in a shit mood too. They made perfect traveling companions. “It is when it’s on the beach.”

“Like bloody hell.” She checked her rearview mirrors. “When we get home, go sit under the bathroom’s heat lamp with a beer, and then get over it.”

Spiker snorted. “Does your place have a pool?”

“It has a lot of things.”

What a very Vanka-like answer. Prying personal details out of her was like squeezing a sober thought out of Buck. Spiker didn’t know anything about her life in New York City. He still couldn’t believe that she’d agreed to bring him home. Vanka’s place was probably some swank Park Avenue apartment in Midtown filled with uncomfortable-but-chic furniture and exorbitantly priced views. She’d have decorated the way she dressed, in sharp blacks and highly contrasted showpieces. No doubt the place would be as much of a knockout as she was, but he’d take his lake house over her penthouse any day of the week.

Why hadn’t he held up the renovation until he was safely planted on a beach? Vanka’s place would literally be the opposite of the fun and sun and people he needed to be near—her neighbors? His stomach turned. There would be no coconut-scented, sun-kissed bodies to erase his problems. Her neighbors would be high-powered and well-funded, a range of headline frequenters and elusive hideaways. They’d be the type to use the word “lunch” as a verb and would claim not to look at art, but rather, appreciate it. He closed his eyes and wanted to go home.

Vanka decelerated and merged right. Spiker pried his eyes open and checked the side mirror. Nothing caught his eye. She checked the lane over his shoulder and merged again. Her grip on the steering wheel remained loose, as though she had wanted a car on her back bumper and brake lights snaking a path ahead. “What are you doing?”

“For one thing,” she said, “I’m not pouting.”

An upcoming highway sign indicated they were nearing the bastion of political power and constant headaches known as Washington, DC. This wasn’t his top location pick for a bathroom break. One in ten DC metro inhabitants were reported to be covert operatives. Given the number of people in the area employed by the US and foreign governments, publicly traded corporations, and multinational conglomerates, Spiker thought that estimate was far too conservative.

She exited I-95 and followed the signs toward the nation’s capital. The steady traffic raced toward DC as though everyone had important places to be. “Where are we headed?” Spiker asked.

Vanka’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “The same place we’ve been driving for almost three hours.” The Audi purred as she deftly dodged commuter buses and a disproportionate number of SUVs that likely had never ventured off well-maintained roads, and maneuvered into the left lane. “Do you know why they found trilobites and sea stars on top of a mountain?”

“The university kids?” he asked with a shrug. “To guess, I’d have to know what those are first.”

Her jaw dropped, dubious and disapproving. “How did you make it out of secondary school science?”

“They didn’t teach prehistoric European archeology in American high school, princess.”

She snorted. “Natural history, and yes, they do—” A series of calculations ran through her mind, and Vanka brightened as though she’d read an advertisement for an ammunition and designer handbag expo. “Change of plans.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were in tourist central, following the Audi’s GPS directions to the nearest public parking garage. Its first two suggestions bombed. Sidewalk placards that read FULL blocked their entrances. Good thing the number of public garages in DC mirrored the number of food trucks lining the curbs. Vanka turned into an available garage that was within spitting distance of the first suggestion.

A garage attendant waved the Audi onto the steep, descending driveway until they were no longer blocking the sidewalk. The angle bothered Spiker. His rearview mirror reflected the low exposed ceiling. He leaned against the door and rechecked the reflection though he knew it wouldn’t help.

In its most basic form, line of sight was a simple geometry problem. On the steep driveway, if Spiker looked out the windshield, the horizon was the sloped garage ceiling. He symbolized the vertex point of an acute angle. No matter how he repositioned himself, he could not change the elevation of an angle—something he learned in an American high school, thank you very much.

Vanka rolled down the window.

The attendant approached. “How long?”

“Two hours,” she answered, simultaneously reaching for her handbag.

Two hours? That couldn’t be right. They had at least four, maybe six more hours until they reached New York City. If they made good time, that’d put them in the city during peak rush hour.

“No, ma’am.” The attendant shook his head and tapped his wristwatch as though they were late. “One, three, or all day.”

“Three.” She reached for her purse.

“Three?” Spiker faltered. “What the hell are we going to do for three hours?”

“Level C.” The attendant pulled a long, well-used ticket book from behind the small of his back and uncapped a pen with his mouth. He walked toward the hood of the Audi but stopped short of stepping in front of the vehicle. Spiker approved of his positioning, given the gradient of the driveway and his general lack of trust in the public. After noting their plates, the attendant ripped out their ticket and topped the pen, cap still clenched between his teeth.

Vanka pulled two crisp bills from her wallet and exchanged them for a ticket. “Level C.”

“Three hours.” He crumpled the cash, tucked the pen behind his ear, and waved her forward as if Vanka might change her mind and pitch camp.

“Three hours?” Spiker pressed. “One hell of a pitstop.”

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