Cecily fell asleep only ten minutes back on the freeway, and the way she slumped in the seat, Shane craned his neck but couldn’t see her face. It bugged him that he couldn’t see her face. Hell, he should specifically not want to see her face. The fatigue in her eyes had been picking at him the entire lunch. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Shane put his attention back on the road and used his shift hand to slide out his phone and make his call.
No one was following them at the moment, Cecily was beat, Shane was beat from the drive out from California, and she had his entire focus on her care and feeding. So while an overnight wasn’t part of the original plan, it wasn’t gonna affect the overall goal of getting her to Dex in “like new” condition.
When Cecily awoke about eighty miles later, she popped up like a jack-in-the-box, her hair a tangled nimbus around her face, bruise moving on to a light shade of yellow. “Sorry!” she blurted. “I haven’t been sleeping much lately.”
“We’re not stopping for another hour unless it’s mission critical.”
Her face started to go a little hard, and so—against his usual judgment—he did what he could to make it go soft again: “But then we’re checking into a hotel. You can get cleaned up, get a decent night’s sleep, then we’re back on the road.”
“Really?” she asked, sitting up stick straight. “Where are we staying?”
“No, really, where?”
“Four Seasons Chicago.”
Still with the big saucer eyes. Shane sighed.
“Are we getting two rooms?” she asked.
She went silent. If her eyes got any bigger, he’d be able to golf with them. “I don’t like this,” she finally said, her voice soft but firm. “I’m not trying to be a problem, and I think it’s really generous of you because I obviously cannot pay, but I’m not comfortable with just one room, and I’d rather stay in a cheap roadside motel and have my own room, if it’s all the same to you.”
“It’s all the same to me, but it’s not all the same to her,” he said, patting the dashboard. “You try to park a nice car in a crappy hotel lot, it sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Cecily blinked. “We’re staying in a single room in a five-star hotel so your car will fit in with its friends?”
“Yep.” Well, it was at least 90 percent true. Another 5 percent was because the security was better at a Four Seasons than a motel, and the last 5 percent he couldn’t explain.
“Do you think that sounds a little . . . unusual?” she asked.
Shane raised an eyebrow. It was his turn to cop a moment of silence. What little had Dex told her? “You don’t know much.”
“About what?” Cecily asked, clearly perplexed.
“More than one unusual things get together, maybe you can’t keep calling them unusual. Maybe it’s normal. Keeping my car in five-star company is my normal.” He didn’t expect her to get it, and she didn’t. “Do you have any idea what your brother does?”
Her forehead wrinkled. “Why would you ask me that? I mean, Dex is a computer nerd. He’s a programmer for a software company. Something like that.”
Shane didn’t answer, which clearly made Cecily even more nervous. She was practically vibrating back there, and shit that he was, he started enjoying it a little.
Cecily sat up straighter. “Is Dex involved in something criminal?”
“I’d say Dex is more on the side of law than some of us. He’s probably got some legit freelance for a day job.”
“Wait, what? Legit? What? Wait. Day job? What’s his night job?”
Fucking Dex didn’t tell her anything. Bad enough she had no idea they were working on a mission involving a Russian spy cell connected to her ex-boyfriend. Dex hadn’t even told her he was part of a mercenary team to begin with. The little shit. Well, he wasn’t so little anymore. True enough, when Shane had met Dex, the guy fit the profile of the stereotypical scrawny nerd. A couple of years in the company of his new brothers, Dex was still a nerd but had lost the scrawny. It is not my responsibility to break this shit to your sister, my man. That was not part of the favor.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like an answer to my question.”
Girl never gave up, did she? “We’re flexible with the specific hours,” Shane said.
“Oh, my god. What is this all about? So your Point A to Point B delivery service. You pick things up. You drop them off. Weird packages full of . . . full of . . . weird stuff. That’s really what you do, isn’t it? I thought maybe you were joking a little.”
“Did I laugh?” Shane asked.
“I don’t think you’ve laughed since I got here,” Cecily said, arms crossed over her chest, a surly look on her face.
That’s not true. I don’t think I’ve laughed as much in the last two years combined as I have since you got in my car. I just don’t make much of a sound.
“Are you involved in something criminal?” she pressed.
“What do you mean by ‘involved’?”
She gave him stink eye. “Are you . . . I think you might be enjoying this. Are you teasing me?”
“Might be enjoying. Possibly teasing. Not sure. What I am sure about is that this is Dex’s conversation to have.”
Cecily’s narrowed. “I need to call him,” she said. Shane glanced over his shoulder in time to catch her fingernails digging into the leather on either side of her thighs. Instead of feeling irritated that she might leave marks, his mind flashed to what it might be like if her fingernails were digging into something else, like his back. Man, where the fuck did that come from?
“I need to call Dex,” Cecily repeated. “Please don’t make me beg to borrow your phone.”
“Dex is gonna be irritated you’re interrupting work after he just talked to you,” Shane said.
“I really don’t care if Dex is going to be irritated if I need to call to ask him if he’s a criminal,” Cecily snapped.
He sighed and dialed Dex, who answered on the first ring. “Brace,” Shane said. With that opener, he handed the phone to Cecily, who wasted no time blurting out, “What is it you actually do?” Silence fell over the car as Dex talked first. And then Cecily said, “The Hudson Kings?” and glanced over at Shane. And then more silence. And then she said, “Because I care about you, and I’m worried.” They talked some more as Shane watched the road; Dex must’ve been doling out the bare minimum because Cecily sighed and said, “Why do I keep asking why? Because I love you, big brother.”
Shane glanced into the mirror and watched Cecily’s face, smiling and animated as the siblings talked. “Because I care about you, and I’m worried . . . I love you . . .” Her emotions were bouncing all over the inside of his car, lighting it up like the sun. What would it be like to be on the receiving end of a call like that? Shane felt a stab of jealousy. Until Cecily stopped letting her brother sidetrack her and asked for more information about the Hudson Kings.
Listening to Cecily’s side of the conversation when Dex started filling her in on the truth was a real treat. She was cute when she got mad, but that wasn’t what grabbed his attention. She was . . . real. Shane wasn’t used to real. He was used to one-night stands triggered in the posh bars of luxury hotels. And on the rare occasion where that one-night stand turned into something a little longer, he was used to women who were attracted to his generosity out on the town and addicted to his generosity in bed; they stuck around for the epic Os long after he made it clear he had nothing else to offer.
And the kind of women who did that weren’t overburdened in the brains department and didn’t give a damn about who Shane really was; they certainly weren’t hoping he would interrupt foreplay with a discussion about why and how losing his parents as a kid had pretty much fucked him up for life. And if you wanted to know the man, you had to understand the kid. Since Shane didn’t want anybody to know the man, keeping his past, his emotions, and his dreams locked up tight had always worked just fine.
Back in New York, Missy was the closest thing he had to a meaningful relationship with a female. Which was probably because she was really just one of the guys and didn’t delve too deep into his feelings. Or at least when she did, she didn’t mind when he didn’t answer.
Which was why, just after Dex apparently copped to being borderline criminal on the phone, and Cecily shoved the phone back at him with a dark look on her face saying, “There’s obviously a lot more he’s not saying, but he wants to talk to you,” Shane had a feeling he might be looking at trouble.
“I copped to some of my own shit. She’ll understand more about the team and the big picture when she gets here,” Dex said into Shane’s ear, adding in a sudden rush of words, “Listen, I gotta go. Roth called everyone in. It’s a scene. So, I gotta go, and I’m asking you to help make my little sister feel better about being an idiot. She’s fragile and hurting, and I’m not there to give her a hug. She’s kinda tetchy. Can you just, you know, defuse the situation out there?”
“Defuse the situation?” Shane repeated calmly. He made a point of not looking at Cecily. “Sorry. Bomb disposal is Flynn’s territory.”
A gasp shot forward from the backseat. Shane grinned into the phone.
“You just said that right in front of her,” Dex said grimly. “Right. In. Front. Of. Her.”
“Yup. And that’s because I call bullshit,” said Shane. “So, why don’t I hand back the phone to your sister, and you can finish ex—”
A torrent of words cut him off: “Cece’ll take the news from you like a champ. She’s not drama, and I can tell she feels safe with you. Give her a hug from her big brother, man. She’ll be fine until I can take over. Gotta run.” And then Dex hung up choking on a laugh.
Shane’s smile had vanished long ago. He stared at the phone in his hand. He wants me to give her a fucking hug. Seriously? Who talks like that? I did not sign up for this shit.
Like he told Dex: bullshit. The man just didn’t want to have the bigger part of the Hudson Kings conversation with his sister. It was a complicated conversation with anywhere from a little to a lot of ugly, depending on the brother. But when one of the guys asks you to take his back, you take his back. And if he keeps asking, you keep taking it. That said, Dex was going to owe him a helluva chit for any make-my-sister-feel-better extras.
“Everything okay?” Cecily asked, big worried eyes in the mirror.
“Fine,” Shane bit out.
“You look like you could really use a cup of tea right now. I’d make you one if I could,” Cecily mumbled.
Shane stared back at the wonder that was Cecily Keegan in the backseat: roughed up, hurting for sleep, worry wrinkling her forehead, processing her brother’s criminal activities, thinking she oughta be making him a CUP OF TEA.
Gonna kill you, Dex.