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Megan aimed the M-16 semiautomatic rifle at the man-size moving targets a hundred and fifty yards away, testing not so much her own acumenshe'd been a crack shot from the time she'd learned to shoot at ten and was a consummate pro nowbut the quality of the exercise Lazarus staff had put together for trainees on the grounds just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, a place none of them were from but the place Barry Lazaro had called home.
"Still too slow!" she shouted toward the control booth.
She no sooner said the words than the target sped up and then slowed back down again. She missed.
Blowing a long breath between her teeth, she dropped the rifle to rest against her hips and stared at the control booth where Jason Savage grinned at her.
"You told me you wanted it faster."
"That I did."
She considered aiming the gun in his direction then thought better of it. A pro never turned her weapon on another unless she meant to shoot. And while the temptation was strong.
"We done for now?"
She nodded. "We'll make another assessment during the next training session."
She walked toward the main complex, let herself in and then entered the armory where she checked and cleaned the rifle before putting it away.
Lazarus Security was growing faster than any of them had dreamed. The property was spread over a hundred acres, the main compound positioned in the southwestern corner, twenty-five thousand square feet of a plain, square, one-story structure that boasted a full gym, firing range, classrooms, a fully stocked armory and even a barracks that held twenty bunks, should the need arise. Outside they had five different training courses, including a dirt track for bike training and a paved one to teach evasive maneuvers while driving.
Word had spread and they were having trouble keeping up with demand, bringing in fresh trainees every two weeks, most ex-military, which made them almost job ready.
Still, while contracts were rolling in, they were mostly of the low-caliber security-detail variety: bodyguards, drivers, installing home and business security systems. While none of the partners complained, Megan had hoped for something a little more.exciting.
She opened the armory door and nearly ran straight into Jason Savage.
He lifted his hands as if in surrender and chuckled. "I give up."
"Very funny," she said.
At just over six foot three, Jason was a little taller than Darius and much darker. Where Dari had light brown hair and eyes, Jason's were almost black.
But the differences went beyond the physical: Jason was somehow also darker in demeanor. Something lurked beyond the surface, shadowy and dangerous.
Still, she'd be the first to admit surprise at the way he'd stepped up after Dari had shipped back out. She guessed it was because they were both being forced to go without someone important in their lives.
"Where you heading?" Jason asked.
She glanced at him as they walked, both of them dressed in training fatigues. "The front offices."
"Me, too. I'll walk with you."
They headed down the hall that would take them outside to a pathway leading to the public offices, each structure separate and secure from the next.
And miles apart in appearance.
"Still haven't heard from Dari, huh?" Jason asked as he opened the door and she passed through it.
Megan stared at him, blinking against the early-afternoon sunlight as they crossed to the more aesthetically pleasing building that housed the main offices. It looked more like a small, modern home than a commercial structure.
Jason shrugged. "Hey, you're always a little more uptight when you're out of contact."
She grimaced, recognizing he probably was right. But it didn't make her feel any better to be called uptight.
"I haven't heard from him in two weeks," she admitted.
"Yeah, me, too. Field trip."
Field trip was code for extra-remote mission where an elite group was sent into a sensitive area and all contact with the outside world was off-limits unless they needed help from command.
Megan caught herself scratching her arm.
She was well versed on the life of a Marine. Hell, she was one herself, albeit retired, despite the saying that a Marine was always a Marine. But that hadn't made the past four months any easier. Especially now that Dari was out of contact. At least before, they'd been able to arrange the occasional video chat and had spoken on the phone a couple of times a week when their schedules meshed and sexted like there was no tomorrow.
But now that he'd gone silent, she felt oddly as if the world had stopped spinning.
She and Jason entered the office building.
It always caught her off guard, moving from one structure to the other. In her fatigues, she felt out of place in the nicely decorated, civilized surroundings; a sensation she didn't experience when she came in dressed to impress in client and business meetings.
"I guess this is where we part ways," Jason said, grinning. "I have a certain receptionist I need to charm."
Megan gave a surprised laugh and an eye roll. "If she's got half a brain, she'll shoot you down flat."
"Who said I was interested in her brain?"
She smiled. "Who, indeed."
She opened her office door.
"Hey," Jason called. "Why don't you stop by The Barracks later?"
Every day he extended the same invitation to drop by his favorite watering hole; every day she refused.
"Maybe," she said noncommittally. "A step up from no," he said. She supposed it was, but she wasn't entirely convinced.
Megan's one-bedroom apartment on the west side of Colorado Springs had always seemed small, but ever since Dari had left, it felt somehow too big.
It was eight-thirty and the sun was, for all intents and purposes, down, even though it was more blocked by the Rocky Mountains to the west than truly set. She lay across her double bed in one of the old denim shirts Dari had left behind, staring at the ceiling. She wondered what he was doing that moment. Was he navigating the remote region of Waziristan, seeking out enemies that knew the caves and rugged terrain better than he and his guys ever would? Was he camped out under the starry dome of the sky, one eye on the nearby hill where an enemy combatant could appear any moment?
Was he thinking about her?
She groaned and rolled over, burying her head in his pillow and breathing deeply.
She was pathetic.
Lord knew she had enough to occupy her time. Then why was she spending so much of it pining after a man who was already hers?
Because she missed him with every fiber of her being.
She turned her head on the pillow and stared at her cell phone on the nightstand. The ringer was set to High in case he called. Still, she couldn't stop herself from reaching for the silent piece of technology and lighting the display: no calls, no messages, no texts.
She sighed heavily, suddenly aware of the rumbling of her stomach.
Had she eaten dinner? She couldn't remember. Probably not a good sign.
She tried to think of what she had in the kitchen and smiled. Dari would be amused that for the first time she didn't have much of anything in the refrigerator, solely because she was too distracted to think about shopping before coming home.
She forced herself from the bed and padded barefoot toward the room in question, hauling open the fridge door. Nothing but a half gallon of milk that held all of an inch worth of the liquid, a few wrapped slices of American cheese, a single serving of yogurt that had been in there for God only knew how long and the requisite condiment bottles.
She took out one of the pieces of cheese and unwrapped it, snacking on it as she closed the fridge door and checked out the cabinets. Not a thing she could use to fix herself a decent meal.
She thought of the delivery menus in the drawer but usually the only time she ordered in was when Dari was over and they were too exhausted after sex to even make themselves a sandwich.
She smiled at the memory and then immediately grimaced.
"Oh, screw it."
She walked with purpose back into the bedroom, checked her still-silent cell and then got dressed.
Megan hadn't been to The Barracks in four monthsnot since the night of Dari's sending-off party. But the thought of spending one more night in her apartment by herself had chased her clean out. That the bar also served burgers was a bonus.
One good thing about a place like this was no matter how long you'd been away, they always remembered you. She caught at least four shouts out to her. She acknowledged them with a friendly smile, looking over what was a decent crowd for a Thursday night. A waving hand caught her attention at the end of the bar and she waved back at Jason.
"Up, Marine," he said to the young guy on the stool next to him when she stepped up.
Megan was amused by how fast the freshly returned Marine did as ordered. She half expected him to salute Jason, although she could have told him not to bother. Jason hadn't been honorably discharged; he'd been thrown out of the service and probably had a permanent outline of the boot mark on his behind.
"Thanks," she said to the Marine as she claimed the stool.
"What about me?" Jason asked with a raised brow before taking a long pull from his beer bottle. "What? Why didn't I thank you?" His grin widened.
"Well, it wasn't as if you'd given up your stool for me."
A couple of ohs and ribbing erupted among the others around them.
One of the females spoke up. "A woman expecting a man to give her his chair doesn't deserve one."
Megan flashed her a smile. "A woman stupid enough to refuse an offered chair should sit on the floor or be hit upside the head with one."
And just like that, she reentered the swing of things, as if she'd been there a few days before instead of a few months.
She placed an order for whatever was on tap, along with a cheeseburger, hold the fries. Jason told the girl to add the fries.
After she left, Megan looked at him. "I hope you plan on eating them."
"I may have one or two," he said. "But my plan is to make sure you eat them. Dari's not going to be pleased when he hears you've dropped at least ten."
Twelve. But who was counting? She accepted the beer and took a nice long sip. "Don't tell me you guys actually waste time talking about me."
When you talk. That's what she'd been prepared to say. Instead, she left the words drift off and took her cell phone out of her purse, placing it prominently on the bar in front of her.
"Are you kidding? If it were up to him, you would be the only thing we talk about."
"Yeah, and next you're going to try to convince me that the b.s. coming out of your mouth is actually the truth."
She'd meant the words as a joke. But as she looked at him, prepared for a funny comeback, she watched him take another drink from his bottle then run the back of his hand across his mouth, his eyes sober and observant, as if trying to figure something out.
"Are you serious?" She forced herself to laugh.
"As an IED."
She squinted at him.
Jason shrugged and faced the front of the bar. "I can tell you that he's probably going crazy right now not being able to talk to you."
She caught herself staring at her blank cell-phone display and looked away. Well, that made two of them.
"Come on. A great deal of your time has to be spent discussing Lazarus."
Jason slowly shook his head. "Nope."
She paused for a long moment, considering what the conversation between the two guys might sound like.
"He says he knows we'll take care of whatever needs taking over in that regard," Jason said.
Now that she thought about it, the words sounded like ones Dari would say. He was never one to worry about items over which he had no control. Besides, he probably had his hands full over there. He never shared details, even though she and Jason would not only understand, they'd empathize.
Megan glanced up from where she'd been staring at her silent cell again. Jason's younger brother, Jackson, wiped down the bar in front of her and then presented her burger. Jason automatically reached for a couple of fries and she slapped his hand away.
"Hey, yourself, Jax," she said. "You cook this?"
She'd heard it said at the compound that Jackson