Sebastian Creed signaled to his favorite bartender as soon as he sat down on the long, onyx-colored bar. The young man spotted him instantly and nodded in acknowledgment. A glass of his favorite bourbon appeared in front of him immediately. He took a small sip of the amber liquid. There were some days he still couldn’t believe he was allowed in a place like this.
Luxe was the most exclusive club in the city, and he had to show his sizable bank statements just to get considered for membership. That was ironic, considering that growing up in a trailer park in Tennessee, he didn’t even have two dimes to rub together. Money was power, he learned. And over the years, he had acquired lots of it. Of course, that came with women, too. Not that he had any shortage of that He never had a problem finding a broad to have a one-night stand with or even a quickie in the bathroom, especially when they spotted a man in uniform. All he had to do was walk into some dive bar or small-town roadhouse, and the women were eager to “show their patriotic duty.”
As his wealth grew, however, so did the amount of women who wanted him. Luxe catered to men and women like him, so at least here, he never had to worry about gold diggers. He only had to worry about those types that were too clingy or wanted to reform the bad boy. Those types he had learned to spot and avoid. He gave as good as he got but always left right after the deed. The sex, the skin-to-skin contact were the few times he felt something, but the moments right after left him cold and empty. Most days, he was just going through the motions and life had sucked the joy in him. He hadn’t felt real emotions in a while. Not since Afghanistan.
He swallowed another gulp, enjoying the feel of the burn down his throat. Pushing those thoughts aside, he scanned the room for his next target. The blonde across the bar seemed promising. She had just sat down, and leaned over to give her drink, showing off a fantastic set of tits. From the way they were unusually perky, she either had a good bra or an excellent plastic surgeon. He’d find out soon enough.
The hairs on the back of his neck bristled, and years of combat training told him he was being watched. He swung around, instantly recognizing the man, but not the two others with him. He had a feeling this night was going to be interesting, which was a good thing. Sebastian was starting to get bored.
“Well, hello trouble.”
“Hello, Sebastian,” the man said. “Alone for tonight?”
“Not for long.” Sebastian turned his head towards the blonde, thinking about what color panties she was wearing over that silver dress. She back looked at him, her eyes flashing with interest. He knew that look. She could wait, though, as the presence of the other man and his companions piqued his curiosity.
Grant Anderson, CEO of Fenrir Corporation. He’d met the guy a couple of times before and on his last visit to Luxe, even introduced himself. That night, he seemed like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Sebastian figured it wouldn’t hurt to give him his card, especially if it could drum up his business. He even expected that Grant would do a background check on him and his company, which was standard, and Creed Securities pinged them right back, and he found out who his mysterious friend was. After that last time, though, Grant had stopped coming to Luxe. It was too bad, as he genuinely liked the guy, even though they spoke a few times.
He turned back to Grant. “But before I move on to tonight’s entertainment, tell me, where have you been? What happened to you?”
Grant gave him a smile. “Something worse.”
Sebastian laughed. So, some girl had gotten her claws into Grant Anderson. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah. Baby on the way, too.” Ah, that was at least eighteen years of child support payments. The chick must be happy as a clam. Of course, judging by that stupid grin on the other man’s face, he didn’t know what was coming. Better cheer him up while he can.
“Well, shit.” He gestured to the bartender. “A round of bourbon for my friends here. On me. But we’re not here to celebrate your doom, are we?”
Grant placed a manila folder on the bar beside him. “Sebastian Creed. CEO of Creed Securities. You enlisted in the Marines as soon as you turned eighteen, went all the way to Spec Ops. Discharged honorably after ten years, then you started your security firm. Hit it big when you got some military contracts, and now Creed Securities is one of the largest military and private security companies in the world.”
Ah, now comes the fun part. “You know when I take a shit, too?”
“I like to get to know my friends well, Sebastian.”
“So do I. Mr. Grant Anderson, CEO of Fenrir Corp.”
He waited for a reaction from Grant, but there was none. The man wasn’t head of a major corporation for nothing.
“You’ve been doing some research, too, I see.”
“You think you can run a background check on me and I wouldn’t find out? Your guys are pretty good, but mine are better.” Sebastian got to his feet. He was taller than Grant and his companions, but then again few men reached or topped his 6’5” height. “Now,” he said calmly, “What do you want?”
The blonde man to Grant’s right spoke in a cool voice. “We want to hire your firm, Mr. Creed.”
Any other man would have been intimidated, but he wasn’t just any man. “And you are?”
“Nick Vrost. Fenrir Corporation’s Head of Security.”
He didn’t feel inclined to shake the man’s hand, and neither did Vrost.
“And you?” he said to the other man with Grant. This one was dark-haired and taller than Vrost, and seemed more affable. He also held out his hand.
“I’m one of Grant’s partners, Liam Henney.”
Sebastian shook Liam’s hand, surprised at the unusual strength. He looked at all three of them, and for the first time, felt a strange sensation in his gut. There was something different about these three men.
“So this is business,” Sebastian settled back on his seat. “So, let’s talk business. What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Grant took the seat next to him. “We have a missing…asset. The asset was taken from us by force, and we need he— it back.”
The hitch in his voice didn’t escape Sebastian’s notice. “So, standard corporate espionage stuff, huh?And you want me to retrieve your asset?”
“We will recover the asset. We’re narrowing down its location, but we already know that we’ll need muscle to infiltrate the facility. Now, we’ve done research on your firm.” Grant paused to give the bartender a nod as he accepted the drink, immediately taking a sip. “You’re the best, and you’re also discreet.”
“Of course. Discretion is part of the game,” Sebastian nodded. “But first you’ll have to tell me what this asset is, and why it’s so important to you.”
“No,” Vrost said in his cool as ice voice. “It’s on a need to know basis only. My team will take care of retrieval. You just need to make sure we can get in and out safely.”
Ice filled his veins. No fucking way. This was not how he did business. There were certain types of people who thought that just because they had money, they could lead him by the balls and tell him what to do. “Then we have no deal. Have a good evening, gentlemen.”
“I’ll pay whatever you want. Double what you usually charge,” Grant said.
“Look, Grant.” He wanted to be honest with Grant, at the very least. “My company is used to handling secrets. Classified stuff, even, so you can be sure your secret is safe with me. But, I need to know exactly what I’m getting into.”
“I’ve seen your record, Creed. Your company has run operations far more dangerous than what we’re asking.”
Hmmm…Fenrir’s security people were probably top-notch if they knew what kind of jobs he’d done. “The answer is still no.”
“You’d turn away millions of dollars to do one small job, just because we won’t tell you what it is we want you to retrieve?” Vrost asked.
He would not let the man get under his skin. “Listen, Mr. Vrost, right?” Sebastian crossed his arms over his chest. “Money, I got. Lots of it. But you know what I can’t replace with money, Mr. Vrost? The lives of good men and women. If I went in blind, I’d be risking the lives of my employees. Good, loyal people who’ve been to hell and back with me. And for what? The prototype for a fancy new gadget? A miracle pill that promises weight loss without the hard work? No. That’s how people get hurt, and I don’t do business with anyone who would treat my people like disposable toys. So, goodnight, gentlemen.” He felt disgusted, and frankly, disappointment that Grant Anderson was just like any rich bastard who wanted to hire him.
Sebastian walked straight to the blonde, leaning down in her ear. “Hey sweetheart,” he whispered in a low voice. “Why don’t you and me have a little fun of our own?”
The woman’s blue eyes widened, her pupils blowing up as he traced his fingers down her back. “Sure,” she said, standing up and following him.
He led her to one of the corner couches and moved over to give her some room.
“I have to confess; this is my first time here,” she said, scooting over closer to him. “But, well, I was thinking of a nice birthday present for myself when my trust fund came in and…”
Sebastian gave her an empty smile, and let her drone on about her hobbies. Something about dancing horses or some shit. He nodded, as if he heard her, though all he could think about were those long legs wrapped around him later that night.
That was quicker than he’d thought. He looked up at the trio of men, a bored look on his face. It was Liam Henney who had spoked. “Please, call me Sebastian.”
“Call me Liam, then,” the dark-haired man continued. “May we speak alone, Sebastian?”
He leaned down and whispered into the blonde’s ear. “I really wanna hear more about your horses, sweetheart, but I have some business to take care of. Go over to the other couch, and I’ll join you in a bit, ok?”
The blonde nodded, and with a last saucy look, she left.
Sebastian focused his attention back to the trio. “OK, say what you need to say.”
“We’ve talked it over,” Liam said. “And we can tell you a little bit more about the asset. But not everything.”
This shit again. “All or nothing,” Sebastian insisted. “And if you fucking lie to me, I’ll know.”
Liam settled on the couch next to him, took his phone out of his pocket, and turned it on. He placed the device on the table and slid it over to his side. “The asset.”
“Oh, fuck me,” Sebastian Creed said under his breath. He nearly dropped the phone in his hand but kept his grip tight. The air in his lungs rushed out of his body, and an unfamiliar feeling in his middle was gnawing at him.
The woman in the picture was beautiful. No, wait, that didn’t even begin to describe her. She was breathtaking. Peaches-and-cream complexion that looked soft to the touch. Burnished brown hair that went past her shoulders. Delicately-arched, but thick brows that framed her face. Long, sweeping dark lashes over expressive eyes. He wasn’t sure what color they were, but he thought they could be a very light green. And that mouth. Pink, luscious and pouty, and he instantly imagined how they would taste and feel against his.
“Well? Will you help us?”
Sebastian looked up at the three men looking down at him. “Fine. Sit down, gentlemen.” He leaned back into the couch and watched as the three men sat across from him.
He waited for one of them to speak. When it came to negotiations, after all, the first one to talk was the loser. They needed him more than he needed them, that was for sure.
“Sebastian,” Liam Henney began. “This asset…I mean, she’s important to us.”
He narrowed his eyes at the other man. Was she his woman? Something he hadn’t felt for a long time – jealousy – clawed at his insides. Henney was the one who approached him after they walked away, and he probably took that photo of her. Fuck it all, if that was the case.
Tamping that feeling down, he spoke. “Who is she?”
“Dr. Cross is one of our leading researchers,” Nick Vrost said. Vrost clearly despised Sebastian, but he seemed like a solid guy, someone you could rely on. He said he was Head of Security for Fenrir Corporation, but he didn’t appear to have a hint of Military experience. In fact, the pretty boy seemed more at home in a boardroom than a war room. He detected a hint of danger around the man, though, and he wouldn’t have risen to such a position if he didn’t earn it.
“What was she working on?”
There was a pause, but Grant answered. “Food. Food research.”
Sebastian rubbed his jaw. Food R and D was a multibillion-dollar industry. Many manufacturers had better security than the Pentagon since the competition was fierce. Still, there was something they weren’t telling him. He was tempted to walk away right now, but another glance at the picture had him rooted to the spot. “Ok, then. What happened?”
“Dr. Cross didn’t show up for work this morning, which is unusual for her. She didn’t call in sick, and we couldn’t reach her phone. We had our HR department check her apartment, but she wasn’t home,” Grant explained. “Finally, we decided to send out security team to investigate. None of her colleagues or friends knew where she was. Then, we checked the video from the security camera in her building. She was walking home last night when she was taken.”
Sebastian gritted his teeth. “How?”
“Two vans, about a dozen men, came and plucked her right off the street. She tried to fight them, but they must have drugged her,” Grant continued.
“Where is she now?”
“We’re working finding her,” Grant replied. “But, we don’t have enough people to retrieve her. We need extra reinforcements.”
“Why come to me?” Sebastian asked. “Why not go to the police?”
The CEO hesitated. “We know the people who took her. Let’s just say they’re not the type of people the police could handle. She might get hurt, as well as other innocent people.”
“Hmmm,” Sebastian rubbed his jaw. “Mercenaries or some sort? Cartel? Hell’s Angels?”
“Yeah,” Grant nodded. “Mercenaries. Hired goons. Plus, you know NYPD handles dozens of missing persons in any given week. They’d take forever to get an investigation going, and who knows what’ll happen to her if we wait any longer.”
Sebastian knew just how cops worked. Small town cops, big city cops. Most of them turned a blind eye, whether it was because they were crooked or simply too jaded.
“Also,” Liam interjected. “We’re not using legal means to find her. In fact, our PI is working with some hackers to find out her location. They can tap into security cameras all over the country and run face recognition software.”
“Smart,” he thought, “But definitely illegal.”
“This is why we’re doing this on our own,” Grant said. “Now, will you help us?”
Sebastian glanced at the phone, but the screen had gone dark. Not that it mattered. The woman’s face was burned into his memory, and he doubted he could forget it.
“All right. We’ll have our lawyers sort out the details. I’m sure you have someone you can call at this hour. But we need to get started on this op.”