Vonnie: Book Two of Broken Girls Series, page 1
Book Two of Broken Girls Series
Copyright © 2016 by J.A. Hornbuckle
Cover by Brandi Doan McCann
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This is a work of fiction and is not a reflection or representation of any person living or dead. Any similarity is of pure coincidence.
Although, if you recognize yourself in any character represented, maybe we need to talk…
ePub Edition October 2016
“Rio Ironcloud for Max Santiago-Adams,” he mumbled into the little box, as he crouched a little to better align his mouth with it. Why the hell people didn’t install these things at a decent height, one where a man didn’t have to damn well bend down to use ‘em, was a mystery. Especially on industrial buildings, like the one his former Ranger brother bought for his business, Black Ice.
“Do you have an appointment?” Christ! There it was again, that voice. Whoever owned that sexy, throaty voice was just on the other side of the door and Rio was freaking finally gonna get the chance to see her. To get an eyeful of the little vixen who tempted and teased along the phone lines, her simple business greeting offered in a voice (that fucking voice!) that made a man envision tangled sheets and sweaty bodies rolling around in them.
He glanced down at the squirming bit of fluff in his arms and smiled when his dog looked at him and wagged her tail. “No. He said to just come by before ten.”
A buzzer sounded and Rio quickly entered, not noticing a damn thing in his haste to fill his eyes with the Black Ice honey manning the phones and door. Coming to a tall black lacquer receptionist station, Rio’s feet stuttered to a stop and he looked around him in confusion.
There was only one person there. A female, true, but definitely not the one he’d hoped to see. Maybe there were two and the woman behind those sultry, come-hither tones was on break or something. Turning back to the desk, he tried to keep the disappointment off his face. “Rio Ironcloud to see Max Santiago-Adams. No appointment.”
“Yes, Mr. Ironcloud. At the moment, Mr. Max is on the phone, but I’ll announce you’re here just as soon as he’s available.” Holy shit! Rio blinked and if it hadn’t been bad form, would’ve poked a finger in his ear and wiggled it. Because it appeared the woman before him was the owner of the luscious sound that’d driven him half-mad every time they’d spoken when Max and family went to New Mexico.
Not that she was bad-looking or anything, he told himself, trying to do a visual recon without her noticing. It was just she appeared to be the grandmother of the girl he’d hoped to meet. And if that wasn’t enough, he sensed the woman was ex-military—although he’d never seen anyone wear pink camouflage before. As she answered an incoming call, Rio flicked his eyes to the polished nameplate pointed his way. ‘D. B. Milliken’, it read and he found himself unsurprised at the use of initials instead of listing her full name. From both attitude and bearing, he knew she wasn’t a woman who messed around and made sure everyone knew it from the get-go.
With the exception of her amazing, lusciously erotic voice which was just then telling him Max could see him now. As the elevators doors began to close, Rio couldn’t help shooting her one last glance, shaking his head ruefully, realizing he felt cheated somehow. Although he was aware it was all his own doing in creating a fantasy bombshell based on nothing more than the way she sounded. Over a frickin’ phone, for Christ’s sake!
Max met him on the second floor, holding yet another heavy glass door open and waving Rio inside, frowning when he spied the dog his former teammate carried. “Shit, do you take her everywhere?”
“Just about,” Rio laconically replied, looking over the cavernous space that was in the process of being filled with a lot of little cubicles. Even with the disarray and over the whir of multiple drills being used as the workers put them together, he could still see no expense was being spared.
But then, that was Max.
Despite sharing a dusty B-Hut with five others of their crew, Max’s sleeping cubicle (no bigger than a typical jail cell) in Afghanistan was decked out like something out of a magazine. When pressed about how he was able to afford, much less acquire nicer furnishings than the rest of them, all Max replied was, “learn to trade and negotiate, assholes.”
Rio didn’t think his former Ranger buddy traded a damn thing to obtain the property, which was a lot more upscale than its simple brick and mortar exterior proclaimed. Not if the ebony wood of his corner office (with a view of the Grantham skyline from three floor-to-ceiling windows) indicated. Not even in the black-and-cream chairs (humongous ones by anyone’s standards) set before a behemoth of a desk cleared of everything but two cell phones, two monitors and a keyboard.
“You rang?” Rio knew he was playing his ‘okie’ card, the one of being a good, ol’ boy, letting the drawl he’d worked so hard to eliminate into his speech as he slumped down in one of Max’s fancy-assed chairs. Shit, if he’d had the balls he probably would’ve propped his boots up onto Max’s shiny desktop.
But Rio didn’t want to push his luck.
“Your check for last week,” Max growled, sliding a yellow slip of paper across the acreage of the shiny surface, where he probably did all sorts of things Rio could only fantasize about doing. “Thanks for that. For picking up the slack with the guys in the field, running interference when I couldn’t from New Mexico. Means a lot I had you to depend on.”
Rio leaned forward and snagged the rectangle. Seriously? Six-hundred and eighty bones for doing nothing other than answering a couple of calls and checking his laptop a couple of times a day while the head of BI attended his uncle’s funeral?
“And since you handled that so well, I’d like to offer you a full-time position, Cloud. That is, if you’re looking for one.” What the hell? He’d done Max a solid by covering some stuff for him when he’d had to go out of town, with the sultry-voiced Milliken broad handling the rest.
But a full-time gig?
Him settled in one place?
Rio blinked, his fingers unerringly reaching for Pookie’s fluff as he cradled her against his chest. He liked Grantham, from the little bit he’d seen of it. Liked that it was growing, but still had a small town feel. A local vibe which more than met the needs of a loner, one which said, ‘interact if you want, or keep to yourself if you don’t. I don’t mind either way.’
Towns like that were hard to find. And he should know because in the fourteen months he’d been searching for a soft place to fall, Grantham was the only one which met the grade.
“Ryker’s been handling both the security systems as well as background searches, but to tell you the truth, he’s overloaded.” Rio’s dark eyes met Max’s, peripherally noticing
Rio didn’t answer, but did offer a reply in only a canted eyebrow, his fingers digging deeply into the little dog’s fur. An encouragement to Max to keep talking.
“You were the best we had in Afghanistan on rigging the security lines,” Max proclaimed, finally getting to the point of whatever truth was brewing in the man’s brain. “And when we were deployed to protect that American Senator? You held forward point. Protecting your ass off for nothing more than a career politician.”
Max’s eyes bored into Rio’s. “I need you, bud. Need you to help hire and oversee the personal protection portion of Black Ice. To take over the schematics and installs of the kick-ass security systems now available to keep our clients safe.”
“To fucking boldly go where no man has gone before?” Okay, Rio was pushing it. But then, at least to his mind, the civilian version of Max was too fucking full of himself to be believed.
Max shot completely upright and blinked a couple of times letting Rio know in the amount of time his former Ranger buddy had been out of the military, no one and nothing had ever challenged him. Well, not with the same level of smart-ass Rio did.
When the man across from him didn’t jump across the frickin’ expanse of the acre of desk to knock his lights out, choosing instead to simply intertwine his fingers, resting his forearms on the edge, Rio re-considered the immediate ‘no’ of his heart. Because if the man who used to go by ‘Herc’ back in the corps wasn’t going all ape-shit and all with Rio being an ass-hat, not even calling him on his attitude…then something had changed.
“Joke all you want, Cloud. But I’m serious. Black Ice is growing and doing it fast. My brother, Cruz, is head of Marketing and handles the Office Manager duties. He’s a great salesman, takes care of clients, runs the advertising, oversees website design and all that shit I don’t want to do. Ryker is on the computer end. My little brother is a pro with technology. Not bragging to say that he can find anything or anyone. And has a nose for shit that’s out of whack. Always looking for ways to hack into our own firewall. Indispensible, you know? What I don’t have is someone who can take over the bodyguard end. People want protection for both themselves and their property. Sometimes just muscle for an event or a long term assignment overseas. That’s where you’d come in. I want you as the head of Black Ice’s Security Systems and Personal Protection. Meet with potential clients; take the jobs you want, parcel out the stuff you don’t. Hire the men you want. Train ‘em, oversee them. Just keep me in the loop and know I have the last word.”
Max leaned forward, trying to stare into Rio’s eyes, but couldn’t, since Rio was looking everywhere except at his former warrior-brother. “I’m prepared to pay you three hundred a day, plus any expenses you incur. But you’ll have to interview and hire your crew—both for doing the grunt work of stringing wire as well as those men you think who have the physical capabilities of providing one-on-one protection.”
Rio thought through what Max was proposing.
As for settling in one spot, Grantham would be the type of town he would’ve chosen, without blinking twice.
But working for his former teammate? The man was both picky and stubborn to a fault. And after liquidating his Aunt Alma’s estate? Rio didn’t need the man’s freaking money.
A place to stay? Yeah.
Someplace welcoming and without the troubling traffic and noise which might (or not) set off the alarm bells in his head (the ones his recent therapist had named as, ‘PTSD’) would help. And the fact he knew more than a couple of the town’s residents didn’t hurt. “I’m listening.”
“Three hundred a day, plus expenses.” What Max repeated was an offering was unheard of, even within the unknown void of mercenaries for hire. Which were the only other offers Rio’d received since signing himself out of the world he’d known from the age of eighteen onward. That of the Army Rangers. But Max had said it twice, repeating himself, and that alone let Rio know his friend was dead serious about hiring him. “I’ll cover the cost of wherever you’re staying until you find your own digs.”
Holy frickin’ moly. The man really was serious, serious a shit!
“You’ll get to pick your crew, both those who’ll provide bio-security as well as those who can install, wire and complete the different no-trespass sort of zones we offer. The fact of the matter is,” Max paused and tilted his head to his hands, those who were gripping the edge of the large table-top between them. Again with the repeat. Did Max think Rio hadn’t heard him the first time? “I need you, Rio.”
Shit, shit and holy, are-you-freaking me? Rio managed to glean from his barreling, swirling thoughts. He dropped his eyes to the fur-ball in his arms as his mind raced. The fact of it was, he wasn’t likely to receive a better monetary offer any-frickin’-where. And that Max would be the head honcho, but Rio would be the one sending other men out into the field to do BI stuff?
Yeah. He could do it.
Rio sat straighter, his wide, muscled shoulders overshadowing even the broad back of his chair. “Full and complete authority for the ones I hire?”
“As long as they provide profit, sure.”
“You got a surveillance room? One where we can remotely monitor the clients who need it?”
Max sat back in his chair fighting a grin. “Have the plans, just secured the contractor. Should be fully functional in the next ten days.”
Rio looked to the dog in his arms, staring into her canine version of a panting smile as he made one of his snap decisions. The kind he more than knew could bite him in the ass at a later date. “You might wanna consider a bunkroom, a locker room with showers and a gym on-site as well.”
Max sat back with a huge smile covering his already smug mug. “Does that mean you’ll do it?”
“If I can hire my own team, lead them as well as secure the initial contracts with whomever we’ll be protecting, sure.” He knew he was asking a lot. Probably more than he should, given the circumstances. But Rio knew his skills, exactly why Max’d thought to bring him into the company. “That gonna work for you?”
Max stood, looking like something from GQ in his gold-threaded vest over his black shirt, as he offered Rio his hand.
Christ! Could a normal, everyday, real guy work for someone like Max? Especially in a managerial capacity?
“Glad to have you on board, Cloud.”
But when Rio’s palm met his future employer’s, he more than realized he’d made the right decision. “Yeah, yeah. But you ever call me one of your desk-jockeys, I’ll take you down, do you receive?”
“Go see Daisybelle to fill out the legal shit and then go get a suit,” Max advised, his eyes roaming over Rio’s black t-shirt and jeans. “Got a potential client in Denver you need to meet with tomorrow night. I want you dressed for success.”
Rio held back the bark of laughter that threatened. Surely Herc was putting him on! Rio in a monkey suit…with a tie, for Christ’s sake? Because there was no way in hell that was gonna happen.
“I know you hate that shit, Cloud. But I’m depending on you to be the face of BI.” Rio understood, although he didn’t want to admit it outright. “This also means you need to ditch the dog. No fur-ball while you’re in Denver and I don’t want to see her here in the offices either.”
A knock off the door took Rio’s eyes off Pookie and over to Max’s youngest brother Ryker filling the doorway. “Got a sec, Max?”
“You remember Rio, Ry?”
“Yes. Hi.” The kid didn’t move except to slide his eyes Rio’s way and nod. “Good to see you again.”
Sure it was. Ryker had been a pain in the ass the first time Rio met him and figured the young ex-felon hadn’t much changed in the few weeks since. Which meant, all Rio could muster was a chin lift in reply.
“Okay, so are we squ
Rio got to his feet. “What do you expect me to do with her while I’m gone?”
Max frowned and looked to Ryker. “Didn’t you say Phoebe’s sister, what was her name? The one with the weird hair.”
Max snapped his fingers and grinned. “Yeah, that’s the one. Didn’t you say she was doing dog sitting?”
“I guess,” Ryker mumbled. “You want me to call and find out?”
Rio sighed. Seemed like he had no choice in the matter and that alone bugged him. Not to mention the fact he was gonna be separated from the only living being he’d had by his side for almost two frickin’ years—even if she was just a dog. She’d still been his companion, his cohort and damn good company for a long time and a lotta miles.
This was more than he could say for any of the women he’d known after his last tour.
“Just give me the number, Ry, and I’ll make the goddamn call,” Max cut in.
A move that found Rio involuntarily pulling the tiny dog into his chest as if to protect her from what was gonna happen. Holding her tightly against his heart which was actually breaking at the thought of spending time away from his girl.
The best girl he’d ever had.
I was the sort of person who had trouble falling asleep, but once the arms of Morpheus (in other words, totally in the snoozola-zone)? Yeah, I was down for the count. Sawing logs until either my alarm or the one of the internal sort eventually woke me.
So to have my dreams interrupted by a thumping, deep reggae beat found me pulling yet another pillow over my head, realizing being a good neighbor was hard. Especially in our condo complex. And most particularly because I now lived alone.
But the college boys in the next unit liked to party. Especially into the wee hours after Cinderella. And as I laid sprawled in the middle of my mattress, I realized I could either ignore the noise or try to find my rest somehow to the booming beat of whatever they were listening to—which was so not my choice of music. But within seconds of dragging my pillows over my face, tucking them against my ear pointed toward the ceiling, I realized the banging wasn’t from the party boys in the next door, but was coming from my own front entry.