You don’t greet your new boss dressed like an underage rent boy. But when Jack Horwood—ace hacker and ex-MI6 operative—opens the door to Gareth Flynn, he’s too busy to worry over details like that. And anyway, his potential new boss is his former commanding officer – the same guy Jack has had a crush on since he was seventeen. So he should understand, right?
When he applied for the job in Nancarrow Mining’s corporate security division, Jack had hoped for peaceful days repelling cyber attacks. Maybe a bit of corporate espionage on the side. His plans didn’t include rescuing abused children, hunting pimps, or dealing with his overly protective and hot-as-hell boss, Gareth Flynn.
Walking away is not an option. Jack never takes the easy way out. More than that, meeting Gareth raises old ghosts that Jack needs to put to rest. Rescuing kids. Taking risks. Saving the day. Jack can do all that—but deciding what to do about his attraction to Gareth isn’t the sort of cloak-and-dagger game Jack plays well. Yet Gareth, strong and smart and always on hand when needed, might be Jack’s salvation.
Excerpt: (as found at Dreamspinner website)
MIDMORNING TRAFFIC on the Strand was steady. Jack Horwood drifted with the flow of pedestrians—mostly tourists and visitors to the capital with the odd office worker out on an errand—past the Savoy Hotel and on toward Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. The buzz and bustle reminded him of the morning after his viva exam when he and Tom had decided to treat themselves to a proper breakfast after a night out celebrating. And how that simple decision had turned into the grandest, biggest, and most magnificent breakfast the two had ever seen. Or eaten.
The Ten Deadly Sins? Was that what they called it?
He stopped outside the restaurant’s ornate entrance and snuck a peek at the menu. Yes, he’d remembered that right: everything you ever thought of eating for breakfast and then some. And they were still serving it.
Maybe, if this job interview worked out, he’d do it again. Heaven knew he needed it. He’d shed a lot of weight in the last nine months—his usual reaction to stress—and his suit sat a little too loosely on his waist. Though trying Simpson’s again without Tom might be only half the fun.
The last he’d heard, Tom Walken was off somewhere arid and rocky in the company of a hammer, preferring the life of a freelance mineral prospector to drawing a regular salary on the staff of a big mining company. Meeting for lunch at Simpson’s might be tricky, but just the memories made Jack wonder if his friend would consider working for the company Jack was planning to make his next home.
Compared to the elegance of Somerset House, the Victorian red brick and white trim edifice that housed Nancarrow Mining looked ostentatious, but Jack knew that the inside of the building had a very different feel. A bit like his redheaded friend, who resembled a model pretending to be a hoodlum but had his very own brand of loyalty and integrity, and somehow Jack thought that Tom would approve of Jack’s plans.
Jack Horwood had never had a job, before or after university, that did not involve the government in some capacity. He’d freelanced on projects for the secret service since he’d turned fourteen, so joining MI6 after leaving the army and gaining his doctorate had been a logical next step on his career path. It had taken the last couple of years, and especially his last case, to make him realize that it wasn’t the life he wanted. He wasn’t content to be written off as collateral damage. He didn’t aspire to be a pawn in someone’s power game. Nor did he want to be seen as a liability.
So, he quit.
And now here he was, looking for another job to fill his days. Something to pay the bills, if someone was asking. Another crusade to fight, if he was honest.
Jack slid out of the stream of pedestrian traffic and stopped in front of a store display. He had a few minutes to kill before his interview. He was also desperate for more caffeine, but that particular craving would have to wait until later. He wasn’t on duty, hadn’t been on duty for four months, yet he automatically scanned the crowd for conflict points, the traffic for threats, the surrounding buildings for cover and hideouts. When he checked his reflection in the glass before him, though, only his professional facade was visible: a light gray suit, the jacket fitted to his wide shoulders and slim hips, and a shirt the exact same eucalyptus leaf shade as his eyes accented by a deep green tie. His face was schooled into a calm mask that showed none of his thoughts, and the tattoo on his left temple was almost hidden by his mop of dark spikes.
Pretending interest in the store’s merchandise, Jack ran a fingertip over the tattoo, an idiocy committed under the influence during his year of postgrad study. Though the choice to leave the army had been his and his only, he had struggled with guilt and heartache, had felt lost and adrift and alone. For a time back there, he’d rarely ever been sober, but when he came home with that tattoo, Tom had finally flipped and kicked his ass into the next week. Jack had given back as good as he got, and they both ended the incident in the ER.
It seemed inconceivable that anyone so conspicuously marked would be good at undercover work, but Jack had a knack for it. Despite the tattoo, he could blend—better than most of his peers, who didn’t stand out to begin with. He never bothered pointing out that just having the tat was akin to wearing a sign saying this guy could never be a cop.
Undercover work wasn’t all Jack did or what he’d been recruited to do in the first place. He was a systems security specialist. An excellent one, if you read his appraisals. A damned hacker, if you talked to people at the receiving end of his skills. Analyzing and sequencing data was second nature to him. He didn’t wait for loopholes. Neither did he go out of his way to find compromised systems—he simply created them when needed. Whether or not he was tattooed hadn’t entered into the equation until much, much later.
Jobs for his kind of skills simply were not advertised.
He’d taken time out after resigning from MI6, spent a couple of weeks on a beach, three weeks in a retreat practicing kendo, and when he returned to England, he’d been ready for a new challenge.
With nobody but himself to answer to, he’d thrown himself into research, creating a list of large and prominent companies that were under attack from their competitors. He even pulled a few all-nighters sneaking into networks to prove how vulnerable his targets really were. Just to refine his list.
Then he’d started his real job hunt. One by one he dissected each company: their books, leaders, projects, cash flow, customers, and values until only a handful were left. Five corporations that Jackwanted to work for. Five corporations with the mindset, projects, policies, and ethics to attract him. Nancarrow Mining was at the top of that list.
His watch buzzed a ten-minute alert, and Jack turned from his contemplation of what he now realized were women’s shoes. He took a deep breath and smiled at the familiar hint of pressure across his throat, where a narrow strip of embossed leather caressed his skin just under the edge of his tie, offering comfort and reassurance. Ahead of him loomed the huge metal-banded mahogany gates that guarded Nancarrow Mining’s headquarters. Beside the ostentatious entrance was a more sensibly sized door—for people without megalomania—and Jack grinned at the thought, at ease with the world and with himself.
TWO HOURS later the world was still the right way up, even if Jack got to see it through floor-to-ceiling windows from the executive floor. The London Eye spun serenely. The Thames flowed as it had since the last ice age, and if he squinted and craned his neck a little, he could just make out red open-topped buses between rows of trees, ferrying tourists along Victoria Embankment. It didn’t bother him that he did all this while civilly answering questions and discussing security issues common to most larger corporations. If anything, the sightseeing kept him calm. His mind ran on at least two tracks for most of the time, and that wasn’t a habit he wanted to break.
He had hoped to find a kindred spirit in Donald Frazer, Nancarrow Mining’s own systems security specialist, and he wasn’t disappointed. The Scot was young for the job, but he was good. And fun to tease. Within moments of meeting, their discussion turned technical, and banter and insults followed shortly after. Jack deliberately played on his reputation, but Frazer wasn’t the least bit awed. He knew his stuff, and he wasn’t scared to call Jack out when he suspected bullshit.
“That’s about as logical as a first generation Pentium,” Frazer commented on one of Jack’s assertions, making Jack laugh.
“I can prove it,” he baited, just as the door to the office opened behind him. Jack didn’t turn around to see who had entered, but his world flipped upside down and ground to a screeching stop at the sound of a voice he’d not heard in almost eight years.
JACK PRAYED that his mouth was closed. Right in front of him stood a man he’d never thought to meet again. He knew he was staring and couldn’t do a thing about it. But at hearing the once so familiar voice, his body remembered old times and old habits. He shot out of his seat, back straight, hands by his sides.
“Captain Flynn, sir!”
It confused him that his body acted without his mind giving directions, but the confusion fled when Gareth laughed. Jack remembered the sound of that laugh from his army days. The deep rumble had once had the power to turn an ambush into a training exercise. No wonder it sent shivers down Jack’s spine.
“Stand down, Horwood.” Gareth Flynn smoothed a hand over the lapel of his charcoal pinstriped suit. “No uniform, see?”
“Yes, sir.” Jack’s brain refused to process the facts. If this was a test, if Gareth wanted to see how Jack reacted under sudden extreme stress… then he’d just failed spectacularly.
“Are you about done, Frazer?” Gareth asked and turned to Jack when Donald Frazer nodded. “I’d like to discuss a few other issues with you,” he said blandly. “Would you care for lunch?”
Jack couldn’t have answered coherently had he tried, so he merely shook hands with Frazer before he followed Gareth from the room and into the nearest elevator.
Physically his former commanding officer hadn’t changed much. He’d had white hair in his twenties, and time had only added a few lines to his forehead and the corners of his amber eyes. Gareth Flynn stood tall, moved smoothly, and his presence had the solidity Jack had always loved. The silver hair was a little longer than Jack was used to, and it tried to stand up in spikes to rival Jack’s. It didn’t really suit Gareth Flynn’s chiseled features and tough image, but Jack found it adorable.
He watched the man from the corner of his eye while they braved the bustle of the Strand at lunchtime and dodged people carrying sandwiches and coffee to go. His memories were of Gareth in fatigues and rolled-up sleeves, muscular forearms on display, but Gareth Flynn in a pinstriped suit that fitted like a second skin across his broad shoulders and was tailored to hug his narrow hips equally closely… well, that was downright hot.