I throw myself behind the pile of wood as the blast of flame shakes the street. My chest heaves as I try to catch my breath, but the smoke that rolls through the air only makes me choke. I risk poking my head out to scan for my cousin.
“Where the hell are you??” I mutter, frustration warring with concern as I see no sign of her. I had sent word that I needed her expertise, and even though I had not heard a reply, I knew her well enough that I didn’t doubt she would come. It’s whether it will be in time… I chuckle, despite the dark thought. At least I know my death would be thoroughly avenged. Hell hath no fury like a Stone. I check the clip, and curse. I had spent more bullets than I thought. Stupid of me, really. My Uncle, were he still alive, would have shot me just to punish me for losing count of such an important thing. That was one of the first things trained into us after all. Nothing was more embarrassing than pulling the trigger in an enemy’s face and hearing the empty click. I check my other weapons and curse again. Not nearly as many as I was hoping were still there. I risk another glance over the woodpile again to see if my cousin was here or if my assailants were closing in. I see nothing, both a relief and irritation.
“Got yourself into quite a predicament here, Bash.” I jump and spin to my right, where the voice comes from right beside me. Thankfully, I don’t shoot or stab him in instinct. He had his hand locked on the top, holding the barrel far from him to eliminate such a thing.
“What in the hell are you doing here?” I stare at him, brows raised as he hands me a few fully loaded clips and blades. I take them without argument, a grunt my only sigh of thanks in true masculine fashion.
“Celeste couldn’t make it, so I figured I would volunteer.” Keirion Harland says, his expert fingers moving into practiced motions as well as mine. I had only spoken a few times to my cousin’s boyfriend, but I knew from the ‘background check’ I had our family’s techie run on the man that he was CIA and as well trained as any of us. Though there was no chance of our egos admitting that aloud to each other, let alone him.
“Well, I’m glad you could join the party!” I joke, nudging his arm as we both ready ourselves for the next phase. The local crime lord had decided that he wanted to take control, and the actual government had decided that would not fly. Hence why I was here. Bash Stone to the rescue.
“I’m glad you were smart enough to call in the real muscle to save your ass, Stone.” Keirion chuckles.
I snort a laugh before getting to business. “See that building on the left? That’s where we need to get. Our target is a large man called Bruno Hernan. Preferably alive, but don’t worry about trying too hard. The client wasn’t too particular other than they want him and his cronies out.” The block had emptied quickly after the first shots had rung out and the gang began to patrol the streets. “Civilian casualties are not acceptable, so keep an eye out, but there shouldn’t be any left.” He nods, a sharp jut of his chin, and I see him slip into the dark, heavy place I know so well. Together, we launch out from behind the pile. Quick, silent,and smooth, I work my way around the right side of the street, opposite of the building we were getting ready to infiltrate. I find a few gang members and drop them before they can even realize death had come for them. Reaching the end of the block, I scan for Keirion. No shouts or gunshots come from the side of the street he was clearing. I am getting ready to cross the street, hoping that he had indeed cleared that side of the street, when I hear a heavy thud come from right behind me. With a curse, I spin, finger on the trigger, only to pause when the black figure who had made the noise doesn’t make a sound or movement. I pull my finger from the trigger and lower the gun, trying to understand what I am looking at in the smoky haze, made worse by the moonless night. Then I see the large blade sticking through his neck, thrown hard enough it impaled the pile of what looked like trash the man is leaned up against. Hard enough to hold the now dead man up. “Holy shit.” I turn to find the thrower of the blade saluting me with a cocky grin from the street across from me. I roll my eyes at his theatrics, but irritation with myself flares. I hadn’t even heard the man come up behind me. I shake loose the paranoia and put off the internal lecture for later. Keirion nods to me, scanning the street and stories of the buildings that line the block for any others who slipped through our area check. I dart across to join him and pause for a second to ready myself for the real hard part. Not that crossing the city alone, and slipping past the dozens of heavily armed gang members that were on every street, was easy by any account. I could have brought a team, but I honestly thought that it would be quicker and smoother by myself. It had been not ten minutes in when I realized my mistake and called up my cousin.
I pull my gun back up to my shoulder and step around the corner. Only to be stopped by Keirion’s hand wrapped in my jacket and holding me back. I scowl at him, silently asking what the hell he was doing. Then I see the look on his face. Eyes wide and jaw dropped to his chest. When it shifts to anger and annoyance, I follow the line of his gaze to see what had happened. I lower the gun immediately, and feel my annoyance amp up to toxic levels. Unable to help myself, I laugh so hard I end up bent over, gun slung up across my back so my hands can brace against my knees.
Standing in the building's doorway that I had been working myself up to sneak in to get my target, stands Bruno Hernan. Handcuffed and gagged—and standing next to a smirking Celeste who checks her nails as if she was bored and waiting for us.
Keirion stomps over to her and I can almost see the words bubbling up inside of him and readying to explode as loud and dangerous as a volcano. “Hey there baby.” She pushes off the wall she had been leaning against with a wink at Keirion. “Cousin.” Celeste cocks a smile at me, and her graceful steps seem more like a dance as she circles Bruno like her prey. “I figured you boys might need some help. Thanks for clearing the street for me! I appreciate your help.” Keirion’s fists clench at his side as she saunters over to him and circles him now, running her fingers across his broad chest. “I woke up and realized my boyfriend had vanished in the middle of our wonderful vacation! I couldn’t help but figure out what happened.”
“How did you know? I deleted the message!” Keirion asks, seeming to give up on his anger as it is replaced with bafflement.
“Yes, you did, but you didn’t delete the incoming call log.” She rolls her eyes at him. “It only took a call to the Stone house to learn where my dear cousin was calling me from and deduce what he was calling about.”
Keirion sighs and raises his hands in defeat. “I’m sorry. You were sleeping, and I figured we could handle this. Male bonding or something.”
“Oh yeah, we bonded.” I chuckle. “Why did you have to come ruin our boys’ trip!” Celeste laughs and leans forward to kiss Keirion on the cheek.
“I appreciate you coming to my cousin’s rescue, my love.” She gestures to the bound man with a flourish, who glares at us, unable to speak or move without help. “For you Bash. Don’t say I never get you anything!” Now it is my turn to roll my eyes and I grab the man, slicing through the bonds that hold his feet in place. The ties to his hands and the gag I leave, deciding I wasn’t in the mood to listen to the threatening and posturing that was sure to come.
“Well, this has been fun!” Celeste sings, and loops her arm through Keirion’s. He gazes down at her. All irritation caused by her surprise arrival already has evaporated and only gooey admiration remains. “We should get back to our hotel. I could use a soak in the hot tub.” She rotates her neck with wink at her boyfriend before turning away. Keirion’s eyes darken a few shades and I groan aloud at the disgusting level of love he stares at my cousin with.
“How did you know we were close enough to get here in time?” Keirion asks me, dragging his attention away from Celeste long enough to remember I was still there.
“Pru, she was complaining to me that you two didn’t invite her along.”
Celeste’s eyes snap up to me at that, twinkling with mischeif. “Did you offer to take her on your own trip?” She tries to make the question as casual as she can, but her eyebrows raise and from Keirion’s cough to conceal his laughter, I know that she had spilled the beans on my teenage infatuation with the fiery Pru.
“Thanks for that.” I growl at her. She only shrugs off my glare and pulls Keirion forward again when the chopping noise of helicopter blades sounds above us. Keirion and I both curse and he tries to pull Celeste into the closest doorway for some sort of cover. She only bats him away, giving an exasperated huff.
“That is your ride, Bash. It will be waiting for you and your friend on the roof!” I stare at her, my face blank, as I question why I am ever surprised by this person. I knew multiple attempts had been made to bring her back into the family business, but she had rejected each and every one.
But she had still come when I called.
“Come back to the family, CeeCee.” I shout as she and Keirion stroll away, as if the flames and smoke didn’t surround them. No, they looked like one of those couples on a cruise liner’s commercial.
She stops and laughs as she turns back again to look at me. “Sorry cousin. Not a chance.” Celeste starts to walk away again, but stops and looks at me one more time. “I will always come though, Bash.” It’s quiet, almost inaudible over the other sounds that fill the street. But I still hear, and share a soft understanding smile. Nothing more needed to be said other than that. “Tell Pru and V I say hi!” she shouts back at me, pointing at the roof, before turning the corner with Keirion.
I don’t understand what she meant by that until my phone in my jacket vibrates. I accept the call despite the blocked number that gives me no sign of who was on the other side. It was infrequent that any of my acquaintances would have anything more than a temporary burner phone. Aside, of course, for Celeste. Her name came up as Celeste is the best! “Hiya handsome! Whatcha up to?” Pru’s familiar voice greets me, and even after all these years, her voice turns me back into the teenager with an unswayable crush on his cousin’s stunning roommate.
“Oh you know… Redecorating.” I say with a huff, adjusting my grip on the man I pull beside me up the numerous stairs to the roof where the helicopter waits to pick me up.
“How fast did Celeste show you boys up?” I can hear her smirk through the phone and I sigh. Of course, she already knew about it. “Before we even realized she was here.” I don’t have to feign my annoyance at Celeste’s perfection—somehow an even mixture of irritating and awe inspiring. “She was waiting at the front door with the target all but hogtied as we were making our final approach.” Her laugh is so loud, I feel offended.
“That’s my girl.” Her voice fades a bit, like she had pulled away from the phone.
“May I ask why you are calling?” I try to not be short with her as we turn up to the seventh floor. Between leading this man, who wasn’t even slightly cooperative, juggling a gun and phone, while trying to maintain a conversation and hide my sharp breaths of exertion from her fine tuned ears was getting to be a bit much.
“We have a job for you.” She says, returning to the phone. I think I hear a male voice in the background, but cannot guess who it is. Maybe Naveen, or a maybe even a new boyfriend. Even since she and Celeste had reconnected, she seemed to be settling into the less adventurous life, taking more recon jobs than she used to.
“I am on a job. Which I am guessing you already know, if you knew Celeste was here. She says hello by the way.”
Pru only ignores my snip, and I hear something loud sounding in the distance. “When you are done there, meet us in São Paulo. After that, we all can take a few weeks of much deserved vacation. How does a beach in the Bahamas for two weeks sound?” I mull this over. I could use a vacation… I don’t even remember my last. Colombia? Six years ago maybe..? No—that was a cover.“Bash?” I realize I had still not answered her.
“Who is we?” I ask, my mind running through the usual names of the other Stone House members. None of whom I would enjoy two hours relaxing with, let alone two weeks.
“V, and me, of course. And CeeCee and Keir are down to meet us their when they get done with their getaway!” She says, her excitement at the prospect obvious. “Come onnn…” Pru pushes.
“Fine. I will see you in São Paulo tomorrow.” I groan. It did sound fun. And it had been way too long since I sat my ass in some sand with a drink in my hand.
“He said yes!” I hear her shout at Naveen. “Deal, I will bring you clothes and swim bottoms. See you tomorrow!”
“Nothing with any sort of animals!” I plead.
“You are getting rubber duckies.” Her sassy voice sings down the line, and before I can tell her hell no the click and following silence that has me shaking my head tells me she already hung up. The man I have tight in my grip only smirks at me. They are going to be embarrassingly adorable. His eyes seem to laugh at me.
“Shut up.” I mutter to him as we reach the helicopter and I push him in.