November 4, 2014
Phoenix Inc, Book 1
When your past closes in, running isn’t always an option
The jobs Marcus Lowry works for at Phoenix, Inc. Investigations are quick and easy, and they donâ€™t give him the nightmares his days as a CIA operative did. That is, until he gets involved in a case that grabs him by the throat and wonâ€™t let go.
Cole Jacobs left behind his old life on the streets to make a name for himself rebuilding high-end and vintage cars and bikes. But when a stalker threatens to kill himâ€”and to hurt anyone who stands in his wayâ€”his past closes in on him, and heâ€™s not sure where to turn.
The last thing Marcus wants to do is take on a charity case, and to say that he and Cole donâ€™t see eye to eye at first is putting things mildly. But when the first attempt on Coleâ€™s life nearly kills them both, Marcus realizes that Cole is in real danger, and Cole is forced to reveal everything. Almost everything. Because Coleâ€™s deepest secrets could destroy them both.
Read an Excerpt
Marcus had let it slide when Cole told him he was ordering lunch in at the garageâ€”and heâ€™d confirmed that himself when he parked unobtrusively down the street so he could keep an eye on Coleâ€™s bike and the path to the diner.
And now, there was a customerâ€™s hand in Coleâ€™s front pocket. And Cole was looking at him with a lazy-lidded lookâ€”couldâ€™ve been just an act to cover embarrassment, but it looked more like something Cole was pretty damned practiced in.
Jesus. Shouldâ€™ve known.
The anger and betrayal that ran through him was a complete overreaction to a total stranger, but, hell, Styx had wanted to make sure he wasnâ€™t getting cold. And right now, he was anything but.
He watched Cole extricate himself. The customer looked over his shoulder at Marcus and back at Cole, and he didnâ€™t catch what the guy said but Cole gave a tight shake of the head. After another few seconds of conversation, the customer was walking away, semi glaring at Marcusâ€”who glared right back and headed to Cole.
Cole, who stuck his hand up and said, â€śI got another note.â€ť
â€śSo you get your customers to comfort you?â€ť Marcus demanded.
â€śGod, you suck,â€ť Cole muttered, pulled the paper from his pocket and handed it over.
Since you canâ€™t stop being a whore, Iâ€™m going to make sure I redeem you.
â€śDoes this phrasing mean anything to you?â€ť Marcus asked.
â€śI donâ€™t know what it saysâ€”I didnâ€™t read it,â€ť Cole admitted, and for the briefest of seconds, Marcus wanted to believe everything. Then got immediately pissed at himself for thinking that.
â€śYou know who I think is sending these notes? I think theyâ€™re from a jealous lover.â€ť
Cole didnâ€™t exactly deny it, but finally he said, â€śI havenâ€™t been with anyone since I moved to town.â€ť
And after what Marcus had just seen, Coleâ€™s admission didnâ€™t hold much weight. Opportunities like the one with the customer probably happened all the timeâ€”Cole was young and single, and there was no reason he should say no.
â€śWhy didnâ€™t you call me when you got this?â€ť Marcus asked, trying to keep his temper in check.
â€śBecause you donâ€™t believe me,â€ť Cole said calmly.
â€śMaybe itâ€™s the guy you were just propositioning,â€ť Marcus suggested.
Cole stared down at the wrench in his hand, then threw it against the wall. It landed on the cement floor with a loud clank.
â€śWhatâ€”you were going to hit me with that?â€ť Marcus scoffed.
Cole glanced at him. â€śFor your information, that guyâ€™s been propositioning me. And no, I donâ€™t think heâ€™s the one leaving the notes. And yes, I was in danger of hitting you with the wrench.â€ť
Marcus smirked. â€śGot a lot of jealous sugar daddies in this town?â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re such a f***ing asshole.â€ť
â€śNot an answer.â€ť
â€śF***. You.â€ť Cole walked away from him and Marcus hung around, watching him clean up his station, pack his tools up and strap them to his bike. Marcus followed behind him closely, making sure to check for anyone following them.
But there was nothing suspicious at all happening during that short ride.
Cole drove the bike smoothly up the driveway. Marcus parked behind him and caught up with him as Cole picked up his mail and a small package, juggling them along with his keys.
Marcus put a hand on Coleâ€™s forearm, and Cole stiffened at the contact. But Marcus didnâ€™t pull away, asking instead, â€śAny idea who sent that package?â€ť
For a second, Cole looked like he wanted to shoot him a sarcastic comment, but something shifted quickly. He looked down at the package and back at Marcus. â€śThereâ€™s no return address. Iâ€™m not expecting anything. You saw me pull in and find it.â€ť
Yes, Marcus had. Heâ€™d also heard the jangle inside the cardboard when Cole had picked it up, and now Marcus brought his ear to it and heard a low tick. Most likely, it was a pipe bomb set to explode when Cole opened the box, which would cause the most damage. But he couldnâ€™t rule out that it might go off when Cole simply put it down unopened.
He kept a steady hand on Coleâ€™s arm and took the box from him with a practiced pressure with the other. He held it in both hands and looked at Cole as he began to back away gingerly. â€śTake my phone from my pocket. Get into my truck. Call Styxâ€™s office and tell them Iâ€™m in the woodsâ€”that I need dry ice and you need your apartment swept.â€ť
Marcus stared into Coleâ€™s eyes. â€śThereâ€™s a bomb in the box, Cole.â€ť
Cole paled. â€śPut it down. Call the police and get away from it.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll be okay.â€ť
â€śI want to defuse it. I can learn a lot about a person from the kind of bomb he makes.â€ť
â€śYou know how to defuse bombs?â€ť
â€śItâ€™s what I was trained to do, yes.â€ť Marcus was good at defusing explosives, and typically, defusing people. â€śPlease, Cole, take the phone, lock yourself in the truck and do what I asked.â€ť
Cole reached into his pants pocket and pulled his phone out. â€śGot it.â€ť
â€śKeys are in the truck. And thereâ€™s a gun in the glove compartment. But if you donâ€™t know how to use itâ€¦â€ť
â€śI know how to use a gun safely.â€ť
â€śGood. Iâ€™m going into the woods. Any danger comes, you shoot at it or run it over.â€ť