Publisher: Bonecamp (May 17, 2016)
Amazon Kindle: Meridian (Mirror #1)
Grant Baines runs a specialty-tour company with his sister, Andie. The tour part is ushering frat boys around the Gulf of Mexico in his charter yacht. The specialty is that he's an ex-military psychologist who does favors for the government. When Grant is asked to spend a week evaluating traumatized FBI Advisor Matty Sawyer, he agrees, thinking it will be just another babysitting assignment.
Grant is more relaxed in a bondage playroom than he is going on a date, so he's amazed at how strongly he’s attracted to the damaged but brilliant man who arrives in his town. Grant’s job is to assess Matty’s stability to return to the FBI after Jaeger Koning— Matty’s former lover— is charged with multiple assassinations.
Knowing Matty's past poses a danger to his family, Grant is determined to keep his distance, until Matty reveals a submissive side that Grant finds impossible to resist.
EXCERPT: (from Chapter Two)
WHEN GRANT first saw Matty Sawyer, he knew he was in for a difficult week. Matty was spooked in a way Grant hadn’t seen since his last patrol base in Afghanistan: shaky, eyes trying to peer in all corners at the same time, jumping at shadows, keeping his chin pointed to danger. And yet—after literally falling into his arms—Matty’s armor returned as soon as they were away from the bus station. When he woke up he became terse, aloof, hinting that he might lie, and then Jaeger’s name was mentioned and Grant saw all those shields shatter before his eyes. If Matty had been under Grant’s command back then, he’d have sent him straight to infirmary with a quiet note to the doc to load him up with Valium and schedule a psych eval.
He’d watched Matty while he slept, wondering about him, how such a lovely young man with soft hands and a polite nature had set out on a road that ultimately led him to needing Grant’s particular services. The Feds were paying for his trip, so Matty was valuable to them, but apparently not valuable enough to fly him on a private charter. It was also doubtful that an advisory position at the FBI could have paid for the expensive clothes he was wearing. That bag alone cost a fortune. Grant wondered if they were a gift, and from whom, and disliked his conclusion.
He had a fleeting urge to rummage through Matty’s pricey-looking bag later, and dismissed the prying instinct. Matty would either give up his secrets or he wouldn’t. But damn, he was easy on the eyes. Flawless skin, probably never a pimple in his life. A three-day shadow on chin and jawline that didn’t do a thing to make him look older. Curling chestnut hair that would turn sable when wet, and blue-gray eyes with incredible lashes and an enchanting slant, like some species of tame wolf. A pert nose that gave him an impudent look. But it was the pretty mouth that utterly killed Grant: a lush, pink curve that just begged for kissing. He was damn near salivating thinking about it.
Either it’s Christmas or I’m in hell, Grant thought. If he managed to get through the day without putting a hand on Matty, it would be a fucking miracle.
He leaned in closer. “Why are you calling out for Jaeger Koning in your sleep?”
Matty’s pupils went wide and his lips parted in shock. His hands began to tremble.
Bad move. Grant shook his head ruefully. Too soon. “Never mind. We can talk later.” He opened the door and climbed out, giving Matty his space. If he didn’t, Matty would lash out at him, maybe even take a swing, and Grant was liking the look of that mouth too much to give it a fat lip.
He propped his elbow on the hood and waited as the cooling engine pinged and complained. He’d run the AC pretty hard today. Next week would be a good time to take the truck in for service, after the trip. It had belonged to his Uncle Sam, who’d gifted it to him on his 21st birthday. That was two tours of the Middle East, one gunshot wound, and an IED ago. A lot of mileage.
And Tyler, he thought. Best not forget about him.
An unfamiliar gray sedan with rental plates was parked in the gravel lot. Sam came out of Kiki’s Diner and waved as he opened the ice machine. Grant waved back, and Sam carried a bag of cubed ice inside.
Matty took the ridiculous crocodile bag out of the pickup and looked at Grant wordlessly, the expanse of the truck bed separating them.
“Sorry for pushing,” Grant said.
Matty shrugged and hefted the strap onto his shoulder. “That’s why I’m here, right? It’s fine.”
It patently wasn’t fine, but neither was prodding after he’d backed off. “I don’t like having to ask this, but did you bring a weapon with you?”
“I was on a plane,” Matty said, very distinctly, as if explaining things to a small child.
Smartass. “You’re also a Fed.”
“I’m not a Fed, I’m a criminal profiler for the Feds. But even if I was a federal agent, I promise you that I couldn’t just board a plane strapped with my Glock.”
“So that’s a no?”
“A really big no.”
Grant nodded. “All right. Come on inside, then. Meet my uncle, have a sandwich. We’ll head out to sea after the weekend.”
“I thought it was the Gulf?”
Matty seemed to like quibbling over exactitude. Most analytical minds did. It was a trait that often annoyed Grant, but it was a whole lot cuter on Matty.
“It is,” Grant replied. “But it’s an ocean basin and it really should have been named a sea. Besides, out to sea sounds cool and no one ever seems to know the difference.” He smiled. “Almost no one.”
Matty turned toward the diner, then froze in mid-step.
All of Grant’s senses kicked into gear. He followed the line of Matty’s gaze and saw a middle-aged man in a suit exiting the diner. Grant sized the man up. Suit Guy wore his sidearm on his left, low under the armpit, so he was a quick draw if it came to that. The rest of him was mildly impressive: fifty-five-ish, bit of a paunch on the belly, but shoulders wide as a boxer and fists the size of hams. Whoever he was, Grant sincerely hoped he wasn’t looking for a fight.
“Friend of yours?”
Matty nodded. “I wasn’t expecting him.”
Grant sealed his mouth shut on questions, except for one: “Do you need my help?”
Matty gave him a startled look, as if the offer was the last thing he thought he’d hear. As if he’s way too used to help not being there, Grant thought, and felt a pang of sympathy.
“Thanks, but no. He’s a friend. Really.”
Grant nodded and slapped his hand on the truck. “Well, I’ll be inside when you’re done.”
He left Matty and strode toward Suit Guy, getting a good look at him. Wiry, close-cropped hair, light brown skin, a crooked nose that had absorbed more than its share of punches. Not CIA or Homeland. FBI, Grant decided. The man had the look.
“Afternoon,” Grant said by way of greeting.
“Afternoon.” The stranger’s voice was deep and flat, as if he’d tried to iron the Midwest out of it, mostly succeeding. He pointed to the front window of the diner and the ribbon-wrapped broom painted on the glass. “Nice place. I almost didn’t get the reference. It’s clever.”
Suit stuck out a meaty hand. “Rey Diaz.”
Aha. Grant shook with him. “Grant Baines. We talked on the phone. Good to meet you.” Diaz let go of Grant’s hand, which was like having a body part released from a vise.
Diaz nodded and looked him up and down appraisingly. “I appreciate that you’re willing to help the Bureau out, but I feel it’s not fair to put this on you without warning.” He paused. “Semper Fi.”
Grant took his time measuring Diaz in return. “Semper Fi,” he responded. He hadn’t known that Diaz was in the Marines. No reason he should have known, but he sensed that Diaz had not chosen him at random. “Warning of what?”
“Of what you were getting into.”
“I’ve read Sawyer’s file,” Grant pointed out. “If anything was omitted, you could have just called.”
Diaz looked uncomfortable. His gaze shifted over Grant’s shoulder, where Matty seemed to be dithering about approaching while Grant was talking to him. Diaz lowered his voice. “Your uncle is filling a cooler for me. Bring it outside and we can talk.”
So Diaz didn’t want to speak in front of Matty. Fair enough.
Grant gave Diaz a long look before he moved away. He passed an elderly couple on their way out of Kiki’s; the Millers, who came in every week for Sam’s grouper stew.
Grant nodded at them. “Mister Miller,” he said politely, and smiled at Mr. Miller’s husband, who was several inches shorter than the other Mr. Miller, and was as sweet and talkative as his spouse was quiet and withdrawn. “Nice to see you two.”
He exchanged pleasantries for a moment, then the taller Mr. Miller put his hand on the small of his husband’s back, signaling it was time to go. “Come on, chatterbox. Leave the pretty man alone.”
Antique clapboards echoed under Grant’s shoes as he entered the diner, and Beakie shrieked a greeting from his cage.
Kiki’s was both diner and general store. To the left, rows of shelves were filled with chips, drinks, fishing gear, beach gear, canned goods, and candy. To the right was a tidy little diner where Sam served sandwiches, soup, and his catch of the day. At the very back was where Beakie terrorized the locals with frequent screams that only a cockatoo of the oldest and most evil of bloodlines could manage.
Sam was stooped over at the lunch counter, filling a cooler with ice. He made a broad show of looking at his watch. “Welcome back. I’d about given up on you.”
Sam’s face was sunburnt all the way back to his hairline, which had receded to the top of his head when Grant was still a teenager. He kept his thinning white hair in a ratty ponytail, and a snowy beard and mustache hid his mouth and jaw, leaving only bright blue eyes and spiky white brows, like a pirate Santa with a hangover.
Grant jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “You met him?”
“Agent Diaz? Yeah.” Sam nodded. “Nice guy. His wife passed not too long ago. Heart attack, he said. Really sudden. He’s thinking about getting a puppy, something to take care of, fill the house with a bit of noise. I told him to get a lab. They’re friendlier than a Doberman, but not so damn friendly that they’ll knock you over every time you walk in the door.”
Give his Uncle Sam ten minutes with a stranger and he’d have his entire life’s story out of him.
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