He’s gonna kill you,” Wade grumbled over the phone.
“He’s gonna have to make me first,” Mase said as he pulled up flights.
“He’s an operator of the highest caliber. He’ll probably feel it when you land at the same airport he did.”
Mase rolled his eyes. There was no way Jazz would ‘feel’ when he landed. Then again, Mase felt it when Jazz entered a room. It was like the air changed. In the beginning, he’d tried to ignore it, but over the past decade, it had become a part of him. He was a sucker for Jazz.
“I’m plenty angry at him, too,” Mase said. “I just might kill him for doing something so monumentally stupid.”
Jazz wouldn’t see Mase until he wanted Jazz to. And, at some point, Mase would want that. Jazz would learn he couldn’t just go rogue at any time without being detected.
“Fuck,” Max yelled as something crashed.
“Don’t throw that keyboard. It belongs to Hart Consulting,” Wade chided.
“I can afford to replace it,” Max said.
“I have no doubt, but that would mean you’ll have to use a regular keyboard until it arrives, so let’s just respect HC property.”
A scraping sound followed by the clackety-clack of typing meant Max had made up with his computer and was once again working to find Jazz with his mad hacker skills.
“I can’t find him. Why can’t I find him? I have better facial recognition software than the government does,” Max mumbled.
“Only because you took theirs and made it better,” Wade reminded him.
“Why start from scratch when you can improve on what’s already there?”
“If it’s so stellar, why can’t you locate Jazz?” Mase asked.
There was a sigh and more typing on the other end of the line. Mase had three tabs open on his laptop, each ready to book a flight to a different city.
Jazz was already in the air, headed to some unknown destination. They were stuck trying to figure out which flight he’d boarded.
“This is ridiculous,” Max said. “You can’t wear a hat or a hood through security, so why can’t I find him?”
Mase could tell that it was more of an ego thing than a general frustration on Max’s part. Max never missed. He didn’t screw up when it came to computers. He was a genius with both hardware and software, and Hart Consulting was lucky to have him.
Max had never been in the military, but he still had a call sign. His name was S.I.N. Some buddies in college had called him a Super Intel Nerd and the name had stuck and shortened to ‘Sin’.
The description fit Max, but the acronym didn’t. Mase only ever thought of him as Max, because if he looked at Max, his thoughts were more protective than sinful. Max was cute as a button…in a grumpy kitten sort of way. Sure, he was a good-looking kid—but he was still a kid.
He looked about sixteen, not twenty-four. And he was one of Mase’s kid brother’s best friends. Mase still couldn’t believe that his younger brothers had sought him out after all these years. He shifted in the pleather airport seat as he thought about how much pressure Nick was applying to get Mase to go see their father.
“Is there another way to find him?” Wade asked.
“Of course there is, but I still need to figure out how he slipped past my facial recognition software. If it’s a flaw in the program, I need to know and adjust for it.”
“Fret over your precious program later,” Mase said. “For now, find Jazz so I can get on a plane.”
Mase kept his voice low. He was already at the airport, bag in hand, ready to chase after Jazz. No one was close enough to hear what he was saying, but he was still paranoid. It came with the job.
“Fine,” Max sighed. “Let me follow his coordinates for a minute or two. I’ll match the trajectory with tail numbers of planes and find out where he’s going. If we didn’t have a GPS tracker on him, this wouldn’t be possible, so when you do see him, ask him how he slips past airport security cams.”
And Mase sent a thought of thanks to Dee, Jazz’s grandma. They’d all been worried about his erratic behavior over the past two months. Dee had helped them plant GPS trackers in items Jazz almost always had with him.
Mase would do everything he could to keep Dee’s name out of it, but he’d have to give up at least one of the trackers when he confronted Jazz. And there would definitely be a confrontation.
He’d give up the disk they’d placed in his wallet first. It was something any of them could have put there. Max had tagged each tracker. Currently, Jazz had two of the trackers on him, the one in his wallet and the one in the watch that had been his grandfather’s.
They’d put a third tracker in his favorite knife and a fourth in the knife that had been his grandfather’s, but Jazz had left both of those behind. It would have been hard to get them through airport security.
“Is it some CIA trick?” Max asked.
“Dodging my facial rec program.”
“I’ll ask him if I ever find out where he’s going,” Mase said.
“Yeah, yeah. Almost there… Got it. He’s on a flight headed to Bush Intercontinental in Houston.”
“Fuck,” Mase said as he clicked on the tab with the flight to Houston.
“Houston’s bad?” Max asked.
“Martin Coleman lives in Texas, so not a good sign. Okay, flight’s booked. I’m out for at least forty-eight hours.”
“You’re risking your cover, too,” Wade warned.
“My job is to follow around Bernard. That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Jazz was supposed to be undercover as a high-level French drug and human trafficker named Lucien Bernard. Mase had been rising in the ranks of a Ukrainian drug and human trafficking ring. Their covers were intersecting for the moment.
“We’ll make it work if we need to.” Wade sighed. “Texas is a believable place for you both to travel. I need you back by Wednesday, though, because Jazz has that meeting with Campbell, the lawyer from San Francisco, though I’d prefer to have you back by Tuesday. Double-D is coming in to go over financials, and since you’re Stateside…”
“I’ll be back. In fact, both Jazz and I will hopefully return long before Tuesday. I need to go catch my flight. We’ll talk when I touch down.”
Mase disconnected the call and got in line for the security checkpoint. Being back on American soil was great—and yet it wasn’t. Wade wanted him to jump into a role he’d neglected three years before when he’d moved to Ukraine.
Hart Consulting had originally started as a joke. While he was being investigated for sedition, Mase started investigating the men accusing him, namely his commanding officer and teammates.
It hadn’t initially worked out as he’d planned. Mase had been discharged, and two of the three men who’d testified against him were still in the army. But he’d done such a good job investigating his commanding officer that Captain Banning had been court-martialed and was still in jail. The assholes who had accused Mase of sexually harassing them were still serving their country.
Mase was no longer bitter, because he’d found his calling. The army had offered financial security when he’d had none. But Hart Consulting was his, and he was making a difference exactly where he wanted to.
He’d been cleared of most of the charges, though he hadn’t received an offer to return to service. He could probably thank Major General Moore for that.
Mase shook thoughts of Blake and his father out of his head. Coming back to the US had his past bombarding him. It seemed Jazz was facing the same issues.
* * * *
Jazz was going to land soon. He could get in a hell of a lot of trouble before Mase touched down.
“Nervous flyer?” The woman next to him on the plane asked.
Realizing his knee was bouncing, Mase took a deep breath. He was an operator. He could be patient for the length of a mid-haul flight.
“Just in a hurry to get where I’m going,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
The woman leaned forward and tilted her head to the side. She was young, beautiful and sultry, but Mase’s mind was on Jazz.
“Meeting a buddy of mine so I can try to keep him out of trouble for the weekend,” Mase said.
“That’s too bad. I thought maybe you were looking for trouble.”
She smiled. She was sexy, but Mase wished he’d brought headphones so he could block her out.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “My wife would kill me if I got into any of that.”
The flirtatious light in her eyes died at the word ‘wife’, and Mase was glad. If she’d continued to flirt, it would have made her so much less attractive.
Another time, another place, if he were going to meet anyone else, maybe Mase would have considered her offer of trouble, but he was going to find Jazz.
“Is your friend as cute as you?” she asked.
Mase raised his brows at how quickly she’d moved on.
She shrugged. “You already said he’s looking for trouble.”
“I’m afraid you’re a little too feminine for him.” Mase winked.
“Oh. Well then, I hope he doesn’t find trouble.” She lowered her voice. “Many Texans can be very closed-minded about certain things.”
“That’s why I’m flying out last minute…to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”
She nodded, and after a moment of awkward silence, changed the subject. But Mase’s mind stayed on Jazz. It was not a coincidence he was flying to Texas after going AWOL.
There had been a change in Jazz since the incident a few months before. That night had been pure torture. It was the first time in three years they’d been in the same room together, and everything had gone to hell.
Even two months later, Mase started to break out into a sweat when he remembered walking into that hotel room to find Jazz unconscious on the bed.
After ten years, Mase had given up hope that what he felt for Jazz would diminish. He did his best to hold himself back, but that had been impossible when Jazz had been calling his name.
The things he’d mumbled had been just enough to twist Mase’s guts but not quite detailed enough to let him know what he needed to do about it. Jazz had told him the man in question was untouchable.
Mase hadn’t realized why until Max had helped them put the pieces together. Martin Coleman. US Congressman Martin Coleman had gone to college and been in the Reserve Officer Training Corps with Jazz. And Martin Coleman had been at the gala that night. He also happened to live in Houston when he wasn’t representing the great state of Texas in Congress.
Jazz had only been sixteen when he’d started college, so it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the much older Martin had taken advantage of him in a way that had deeply affected Jazz—and was still affecting him to this day.
Mase’s phone pinged—then it pinged again…and again. He was getting messages from Wade and Max. Jazz was at Martin Coleman’s home. Max was working on accessing the security feed. He would remove any evidence of Jazz’s presence.
Mase sat forward in his seat, only to lean back. Leaning forward again, he looked around until he realized he was looking for a quicker way to get to Jazz, and that just wasn’t possible.
Jazz was on his own with no backup. He hadn’t even told them where he was going, probably because they would have tied him down to stop him from making such a crazy decision. Mase didn’t even try to stop his foot from bouncing on the floor of the plane. Jazz was the one person who could throw him into a tailspin.
“Your friend already find some trouble?” his seat partner asked.
“You could say that.”
And there wasn’t a damn thing Mase could do to stop the backlash that was sure to come.