ExplosiveBlack Opals, Book 3
They exist only in shadow. An elite team of deadly operatives created to satisfy increasing international
threats. Their world is the dark underground, where sin and pleasure dominate and lies are second nature.
To those who cross them, they are professional killers. Within the CIA, they are the rare Black Opals...
Untamed Spirit Publishing
Release Date: September, 2013
Of all the god-awful methods of torture Jayce Honeycutt could envision, weddings ranked at the top of his list. That was saying a lot, considering he’d spent the last ten years of his life disarming bombs for the CIA’s specialized, undocumented team of Black Opals. He’d done his fair share of making threats on US security go away as well, sometimes using those very same methods of torture on subjects that held critical information. But hands-down, a wedding beat every documented and undocumented coercion tactic he knew.
After the last fiasco, when Alexei Nikanova—one of the most esteemed Black Opals, no less—married a virtual terrorist, Jayce had his fill. No more weddings. No more people losing their goddamn minds and throwing away perfectly good careers in the name of the two-faced bitch called love.
That is, until his older sister Jasmine called a month ago. Now he was back in Boulder, Colorado, the last place on earth he wanted to be, not only attending, but participating, in a damn wedding.
He slammed his pickup into third and skidded around the corner. He’d endured the family dinner with the in-laws he’d never see again. Suffered enough polite handshakes, false hugs, and sugary sweet smiles to last a lifetime. Now he couldn’t get to the bar fast enough. One beer to take the edge off. Another to clear his head—around five he might just forget how Boulder had changed his life and how he’d once been dumb enough to buy into the fantasy of weddings and lifelong nuptials. True, he’d never made it to the altar. No, Alyssa hadn’t let it get that far before she vanished, she and their unborn child.
Grinding his teeth against the unwanted rise of memories, Jayce eased up on the accelerator. Just as revisiting the past would bring up trouble, so would getting a ticket. Kevin Clark, director of the Black Opals, would make him eat this one. The three in London had pushed his boss a bit too far. Not to mention Jayce’s attitude about Alexei’s wife. Clark had all but forced Jayce to accept Jasmine’s request to escort her down the aisle. Not that he would have refused. This gave him the opportunity to be near his younger sister, Jordan, at a time she needed company the most.
A bright orange neon sign announced that Jayce had reached his destination and welcomed visitors to the Rocky Mountain Taproom. He nosed into a parking space, killed the engine, and jumped out of the car. Pocketing his keys, he entered a world of sultry blues and even more sultry lights. For the most part, the bar was dead, as he’d expected on a Wednesday night. A few men gathered around the pool table. Near the bar, three ladies laughed over the sound of a crooning sax. They looked his way as he grabbed a barstool. One shyly lifted a manicured hand to wave.
Jayce nodded at the brunette. Cute, but he wasn’t looking for a piece of tail. Not tonight. In another hour he was supposed to meet Jordan. She’d said she wanted to talk. About what made Jayce’s stomach twist into knots. He didn’t want to confront those memories either. All they did was remind him how he’d failed the one person he was closest to. How he’d been so caught up in his own disaster he couldn’t bring himself to help his sister fight the bastard who raped her and subsequently convinced the entire town she’d brought it on herself.
Still, he owed it to Jordan to be there for her. With Jasmine’s wedding approaching, the date of the disaster so near, he couldn’t tolerate the idea of leaving Jordan alone right now.
“What’ll it be, handsome?” The bartender propped her elbows on a polished brass rail, bending forward until Jayce couldn’t help but notice her nipples were about to escape the low-cut tank top.
“Coors Light, bottle.”
Her mouth curved up in an approving grin, and she tapped stubby nails on the polished wood. “Hometown boy at heart.”
Jayce chuckled. “Yeah, something like that.”
As she fished a frosty bottle from the cooler, she cocked her head to study him. “Hey, don’t I know you? Class of 2000. Jayce…Harcourt?”
“Honeycutt.” For the life of him, he couldn’t begin to produce her name. He supposed that shouldn’t surprise him; he’d blocked most of that year out.
She set his bottle down and extended her hand. “Marcie Lauflin. We had Accounting I together.”
Accounting. Jayce bit back a grimace. No wonder he didn’t recognize a thing about Marcie. Alyssa had been in Accounting I. He couldn’t recall a single lesson—he’d singularly attended class so they could spend time together. It was the only way they could be together without worry of getting caught.
He slid his hand into Marcie’s and gave it a shake. “It’s a pleasure. I see Boulder hasn’t changed much.”
“Nah, it never does.” She grinned. “You know how it is. What brings you back to town?”
“Wedding. My sister’s.”
Marcie wrinkled her nose, echoing Jayce’s very poignant sentiment. “Ew.”
“Yeah tell me about it. Not exactly my cup of tea. But…family…” Lifting his beer, he offered Marcie a mock toast, then downed a hearty mouthful. The cold coated his throat and soothed the tightness in his gut.
“You ran with Brice McTavish, didn’t you?”
Wow. Talk about a name from the past. Though Jayce had cut Brice off along with everyone else in Boulder, they’d been tight as teens. Both of them just barely getting by, one foot in the grave, the other barreling on ahead, hoping they’d manage to graduate by the skin of their teeth. Neither wanted to be held back again. “Is McTavish still around?” It might be nice to revisit that particular person from his past. Have a few laughs while he was in town, a few beers, a few minutes of disbelief that they were still alive.
“He’s still here. He’s some big name attorney now. Criminal law. Folks tend to look the other way when he’s around, ‘bout like they did back then.” She laughed again and swept a white cloth over the immaculate bar. “He’s a regular here on Wednesdays. I’m surprised he’s not in yet.”
“Really?” The night was looking up. Beating McTavish at a game of pool would improve Jayce’s mood ten-fold.
“Yep. He must be hung up at the office.” With a frown on her overly-painted face, Marcie rose on her toes and looked over Jayce’s head at the front door. “Wait. He’s coming inside now. Hey, Brice!”
Jayce cringed as her brittle voice thundered over the music. Damn, no wonder she was tending bar. She could break up a fight with just a yell. No one would want to stick around long enough to hear it twice.
“Evening, Marcie,” Brice called in amicable return. “Got a Jim and Seven for me?”
“Got something better. Look who’s in town.” Marcie thrust a plump arm under Jayce’s nose. “Jayce Honeycutt.”
“Jayce?” Brice’s grin doubled in size as he slid onto the stool beside Jayce’s and thrust out his hand. “I’ll be damned. Never thought I’d see you around here again.” As Jayce fitted his hand in Brice’s and gave it a firm squeeze, his childhood best friend enveloped him in a brotherly hug. “It’s good to see you, man.”
“Good to see you too, McTavish.” That was the one, the only, truthful thing he’d said all night. He took Brice in quickly, observing he’d evidently bettered his life. Crisp lines defined a custom-tailored, dark grey, Italian suit. Beneath the stylish coat, white silk opened at the collar. His brown hair was cut short, no longer clinging to his shoulders or falling in his eyes. And he’d shaved. Something McTavish avoided in high school like most men avoided low-rate whores.
“So where you been?” McTavish asked as Marcie passed him his drink.
Jayce took another pull from his beer before issuing his concocted excuse. “I’ve been working security.”
“Security?” McTavish gestured at Jayce’s own imported black suit. “Didn’t know installations could dress a man like that.”
Chuckling, Jayce shook his head. “Not installations. Consultations. Custom designs for the wealthy.”
McTavish let out a long low whistle. “Nice.”
“Marcie says you’re an attorney now?”
“Yeah, gotta pay the bills somehow. After the first year of partying at CSU, I realized rent didn’t come free. Got my act together. Managed to graduate. Opened my own practice about four years ago.”
McTavish darted a jerky glance at his watch, then smoothed his free hand down his pants leg. Too many years of being trained to notice insignificant actions alerted Jayce to the absent gestures. Nervous. Hiding something. But what? And why?
Jayce didn’t have long to wait to discover the answer. As he swigged another drink, the men surrounding the pool table all did an about-face toward the door. He turned, curious what, or rather who, captured their immediate attention. At the sight of silken hair the color of rich chocolate, a waist so tiny it would make Scarlet O’Hara cry, and a smile that could silence an angel chorus, Jayce’s heart slammed to a halt.
Alyssa Martin. Holy fuck, he hadn’t prepared for her on any level. Let alone the way she sidled up to McTavish and planted an affectionate kiss on his mouth.
“Hey, babe. Who’s your—” Turning toward Jayce, her words abruptly stopped. Recognition flashed behind even richer brown eyes. In a heartbeat’s passing, her delicate face washed white. “Jayce,” she exhaled.
He couldn’t speak. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t produce a single word. Dozens rallied in his head. Questions she’d never answered—where had she gone, where did he screw up? What happened to our baby? Nothing worked its way past his dry-as-sand throat.
She blew out a breath that fanned the loose tendrils around her face and restored a bit of color to her fair cheeks. “You look…good.”
So did she. Fucking hot as hell. Slimming pencil skirt in khaki, a flirty summer blouse that accented her toned arms—she was every bit as beautiful as she’d been when he’d fallen head over heels for her. More so now that she’d filled out. Her breasts were full and pert, her hips narrow and defined. Her waist still so small he could fit his hands around it and touch his fingertips if he squeezed just a little. And her hair… God, her hair. She hadn’t cut it. Ten years, and it was still as long and glorious as he remembered. He’d bet his soul it would still slide like satin between his fingertips.
Old longing pitched his stomach in a violent circle, and Jayce struggled to put words in order. He had to say something. Something other than a demand for answers. He forced a smile he hoped was casual. “Hey, you.”
His stomach lurched again as Alyssa perched herself on Brice’s knee. Though he hadn’t seen her in a decade, though he had every right to want to strangle Alyssa Martin, the sight of her with Brice was like someone rammed a boot in Jayce’s gut. A steel-toed one that cracked a rib. Christ, the burn was agonizing.
His Alyssa, the woman he’d done everything he could to provide a life for, was with his best friend. Former best friend. Perched on his lap in a way that couldn’t be mistaken as anything but intimate.
The irrational need to put a bullet in McTavish’s forehead possessed Jayce. He turned away and stared at his beer, the malt flavor now as bitter as rotten hops. As a covert operative, he should have anticipated Alyssa might be in Boulder. But last he’d heard, she’d left the city. Her parents gloated when they informed him she’d gone to her aunt’s in New Mexico. It was the only bit of information they’d ever volunteered.
If they’d liked him better, if his family came from the same wealth as hers…
He clenched a hand around the cold glass and choked the timeless questions down.
Alyssa’s voice reached him distantly, pulling him out of thoughts he had no business entertaining. The faint touch of her hand on his shoulder seared like coals. He forced himself not to flinch.
“Should I…go, Jayce?”
Yes. Please, God, yes. “No,” he blurted out, torn between conflicting desires. “You just…surprised me.” Calling on every lesson he’d ever had in his years as a Black Opal, he managed a tight smile. “Last I heard, you were in New Mexico.”
He had to give her credit—she had the decency to flinch. But the sadness that flickered behind her eyes, the slow way she dipped her head in a remorseful nod, lacked satisfaction. If anything, it tripled his nonsensical desire to haul her off McTavish’s lap and onto his.
“Yeah. I was,” she answered quietly.
“Alyssa came back to Boulder after she graduated,” McTavish volunteered. Setting his chin on her shoulder, he wrapped an arm around her waist. A bit too possessively for Jayce’s liking. “She’s an accountant. Best in the city.”
She would be. Alyssa always had a mind for numbers, unlike Jayce who’d struggled with basic algebra. Hearing that she’d gone on to find success, that she’d fulfilled one dream she’d held dear, however, eased the hardness around his mouth. He yielded to a genuine smile. “I think that’s my cue to buy you a drink.”
He waved Marcie over and inclined his head toward Alyssa. “Hers is on me.”
“Rum and coke?” Marcie lifted an eyebrow at Alyssa.
Another thing that hadn’t changed—Alyssa still had a soft spot for rum. The warmth stirring in Jayce’s veins rushed through his limbs and wrapped around his lungs. The initial shock of seeing her now over, he slid his gaze down the length of her body, drinking in every curve, every smooth plane, and savoring the last memory he’d ever have of her.
Then his gaze latched onto hers, surprise lanced through him. Appreciation glinted in those compelling brown depths, along with something entirely too familiar—the bright spark of desire. He took a hasty drink, certain he was seeing things. But Alyssa smiled, that same secret, alluring smile she’d always reserved just for him, and the truth nearly knocked him sideways. After all this time, after everything that had happened, nothing had killed the one thing that they’d never had to work at. Chemistry crackled between them the same way it had when he’d seen her at the outdoor lunch table, sitting by herself, her nose shoved in a textbook.
And her hand still held the identical tremor that it had the day he’d sucked up his courage and sat down beside her.Previous In Series Entire Series