Bullard checked that the helicopter was loaded with their bags and that his men were ready to leave.
He walked back one more time, his gaze on Ice. She’d never looked happier, never looked more perfect. His heart ached, but he knew she remained a caring friend and always would. He opened his arms. She ran into them, and he held her close, whispering, “The offer still stands.”
She leaned back and smiled up at him. “Maybe if and when Levi’s been gone for a long enough time for me to forget,” she said in all seriousness.
“That’s not happening. You two, now three, will live long and happy lives together,” he said, smiling down at the woman he knew to be the most beautiful, inside and out. She would never be his, but he always kept a little corner of his heart open and available, in case she wanted to surprise him and to slide inside.
Then he realized she’d already been a part of his heart all this time. A good ten or fifteen years by now. But she kept herself in the friend category, and he understood because she and Levi, partners and now parents, were perfect together.
Bullard reached out and shook Levi’s hand. “It was a hell of a blast,” he said. “When you guys do a big splash, you really do a big splash.”
Ice laughed. “A few days at home sounds perfect for me now.”
“It looks great,” Bullard said, his hands on his hips as he surveyed the people in the massive pool surrounded by the palm trees, all designed and decked out by Ice. Right beside all the war machines that he heartily approved of. He grinned at her. “When are you coming to visit?” His gaze went to Levi, raising his eyebrows, then back at her. “You guys should come over for a week or two or three.”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Levi said. “We could use a long holiday, just not yet.”
“That sounds familiar.” Bullard grinned. “Anyway, I’m off. We’ll hit the airport and then pick up the plane and head home.” He added, “As always, call if you need me.”
Everybody raised a hand as Bullard boarded the chopper to the Houston airport. The chopper was Ice’s, and one of her men would ride with Bullard in the copilot’s seat, just to fly the helo back to the compound. Ice had volunteered to shuttle him there, but he didn’t want to take her away from her family or to prolong the goodbye. He hopped inside, waving at everybody as the helicopter lifted. Two of his men, Ryland and Garret, were in the back seats. They always traveled with him.
Bullard would pick up the rest of his men in Australia. He stared down at the compound as he flew overhead. He preferred his compound at home, but, damn, they’d done a nice job here.
With everybody on the ground shouting their goodbyes, Bullard sailed over Houston, heading toward the airport. His two men never said a word. They all knew how he felt about Ice. But none of them would cross that line and say anything. At least not if they expected to still have jobs … and jaws.
It was one thing to fall in love with another man’s woman, but another thing to fall in love with a woman who was so unique, so different, and so absolutely perfect that you knew, just knew, you had no hope of finding anybody else like her. But Ice and Levi had been together long before Bullard had ever met her, which made it that much more heartbreaking.
Still, he’d turned from his view of Ice and looked forward. He had a full roster of jobs to focus on when he got home. Part of him was tired of the life; another part of him couldn’t wait to head out on the next adventure. He managed to run everything from his command centers in one of two locations. He’d spent a lot of time and effort at the second one and kept a full team at both locations, yet preferred to spend most of his time at the old one. It felt more like home to him, and he’d like to be there now but still had many more days before that could happen.
The helicopter lowered to the tarmac, and he stepped out and walked across to where his private plane waited. It was one of the things that he loved, being a pilot of both helicopters and airplanes, owning some of both birds himself.
That again was another way he and Ice were part of the same team, of the same mind-set. He’d been looking for another woman like Ice for himself—but no such luck. Sure, plenty were around for short-term relationships, but most of them couldn’t handle his lifestyle or the violence of the world that he lived in. He understood that.
The ones who did mostly had a hard edge to them, which he found difficult to live with. Bullard appreciated everybody being alert and aware, but, if some softness wasn’t in the women, they seemed to turn cold all the way through.
As he greeted some of the ground crew, Ryland and Garret hanging back, Bullard finally turned to board his small plane and called out in his loud voice, “Let’s go, slowpokes. We’ve got a long flight ahead of us.”
The men grinned, confident Bullard was teasing, as was his usual routine during their off-hours.
“Well, we’re ready. Not sure about you though,” Ryland said, smirking.
“We were waiting on you this time to leave,” Garret added with a chuckle. “Good thing you’re the boss.”
Bullard grinned at his two right-hand men. “Isn’t that the truth?” He dropped his bags and said, “Stow all this stuff, will you? I want to get our flight path cleared and to get the hell out of here.”
They’d all enjoyed the break. Bullard tried to get to the States once a year to visit Ice and Levi—and the same in reverse. But it was time to get back to business. Bullard started up the engines and got confirmation from the tower. They were heading to Australia for this next job. They’d refuel in Honolulu. He really wanted to go straight back to Africa, but it would be a while yet.
Ryland joined him in the cockpit and sat in the copilot’s spot, buckled in, then asked, “You ready?”
Bullard laughed. “When have you ever known me not to be?” At that, he taxied down the runway. Before long he was up in the air, at cruising level, pointed toward Hawaii. “Gotta love the view from up here,” Bullard said. “This place is magical.”
“It is once you get up above all the smog,” Ryland said. “Why Australia again?”
“Checking out that newest compound that I’ve had my eye on. Besides, the alpha team is coming off that ugly job in Perth. No one left there to deal with. So we’ll give them a day or two of R&R, then head home.”
“Right. We could have some equally ugly payback on that job.”
Bullard shrugged. “That goes for most of our jobs. It’s the life.”
“Don’t you already have enough compounds to look after?” Garret asked.
“Yes, I do, but that kid in me still looks to take over the world. Just remember that.”
“Better you go home to Africa and look after your first two compounds,” Ryland said.
“Maybe so,” Bullard admitted, “but it seems hard to not continue expanding.”
“You need a partner,” Ryland said abruptly. “That might ease the savage beast inside and keep you at home more.”
“Well, the only one I like,” he said, “is married to my best friend.”
“Sorry,” Ryland said quietly. “What a shit deal.”
“No,” Bullard said. “I came on the scene last. Clearly they were always meant to be together. Especially now that they’re a family.”
“If you say so,” Ryland said.
Bullard nodded. “Damn right, I say so. Now to change the subject. Terkel contacted me.”
“What did he want?” Ryland asked. “He’s a strange one.”
“He is, but when he speaks, I listen.”
“Sure, I do too. But who understands what he says?”
Bullard burst out laughing. “True. It often sounds like he’s speaking in riddles. This time, however, he was very clear. An old enemy stalks me.”
“That’s nothing new. We have tons of those.”
“Very true. But he was dead serious this time.”
And that set the tone for the next many hours. They landed in Hawaii, and, while they fueled up, everybody got off to stretch their legs, walking around outside a bit. This was a small private airstrip, not exactly full of hangars and tourists. Then they hopped back on board again for takeoff.
“I can fly,” Ryland offered, as they took off.
“We’ll switch in a bit,” Bullard said. “Surprisingly I’m doing okay yet, but I’ll let you take her down.”
“Yeah, it’s still a long flight,” Ryland said, studying the islands below. “What a stunning view of the area.”
“I love the islands here. Sometimes I just wonder about the benefit of, you know, crashing into the sea, coming up on a deserted island, and finding the simple life again,” Bullard said with a laugh.
“I hear you,” Ryland said. “Every once in a while, I wonder the same.”
Several hours later Ryland looked up and said abruptly, “We’ve made good time, considering we’ve already passed Fiji.”
Bullard smiled, nodded, and said, “Fine. I’ll hand it to you.” Bullard stood.
Just then a funny noise came from the engine on the right side. Followed by dead silence.
They looked at each other, and Ryland said, “Uh-oh. That’s not good.”
And the plane exploded.
Mayer is a USA Today bestselling author who writes for the young, the old and
those in-between – no matter what the age. Some of her books are hot, some are
sweet. Some will keep you up at night with a light on to keep the boogie man
away and some you’ll want to cuddle close.
She’s long given up on trying to fit a specific genre. Instead she honors the
stories that come to her – and some of them are crazy, break all the rules and
cross multiple genres!
And that’s okay too.
There is one guarantee with each book – it will be a great read – each and