Ben Mercer is an ex-cop, lamed, framed, and thrown off the force for a crime his partner committed. Now homeless, he has no expectations for a better life until he's recruited by Durand, head of Vanguard Security, to join a team that deals with problems the police can't or won't touch. All Ben needs is the approval of the team leader, Zach Turner.
To get it, Ben has to prove to Zach that he still retains his skills as a sniper, and that he can handle any job thrown at him, despite the still painful damage to his knee. He does, and is immediately pulled into a job with the team, rescuing a kidnap victim.
Ben had one big secret, or did have until Durand drew it out of him. Before his life was drastically changed he had denied, even to himself, that he was gay. Now that he's accepted it, and learned that Zach is as well, can the two men forge a bond beyond that of being teammates and friends? It will take several more jobs before Ben gets his answer.
Ben woke to the sound of the cell phone, unsure for a moment where he was even though it was his second day at the safe house. Once he got oriented, he answered the call. It was Zach, telling him in no uncertain terms to meet him in his office on the third floor of the Vanguard building at nine sharp.
"Back to being bossy, again," Ben muttered after Zach ended the call. He had hung up his new shirts and jeans the previous afternoon, and put the t-shirts and underwear in the dresser drawer. After using the bathroom, he got dressed.
"I'm a whole new man," he said when he looked in the mirror. "Relatively speaking anyway."
He ate breakfast and then used his phone to find out which bus would take him to his destination. He was about to leave when his phone rang. "I'm downstairs," Zach said when Ben answered. "Pack a bag and get down here."
"Backpack," Ben replied to a dead phone. He quickly stuffed his new clothes into the pack, as well his comb, toothbrush and paste, and then slung it over his shoulder and left the apartment, remembering at the last second to set the alarm.
"You move fast," Zach said with a brief smile when Ben got into the jeep.
"Where are we going?"
"To the airport. Sorry to jump you right into this without any warning," Zach replied. "We've been looking for a kidnap victim and twenty minutes ago our people finally located where he's being held."
"Obviously not here."
"Nope. It happened out east. I'll fill you and the others in when we're on the plane."
As they drove, Ben realized they weren't heading to the main airport. "We're taking a private jet?" he asked.
"Yep. We keep them at an airport that caters to corporate jets."
"Why aren't I surprised that Vanguard has more than one?"
Zach tossed him a quick smile. "Because you're beginning to get that it's a large organization, even though there aren't that many people working for our particular part of it?"
"I am now."
When they arrived at the airport, Zach drove directly to a small lot beside a row of hangers. A jet with the Vanguard logo sat in front of one of them. Ben hefted his backpack over his shoulder, waited for Zach to get his bag from the back of the jeep, and then followed him into the jet. Two people were already settled in facing seats in the cabin, a drop-down table between them. One was a swarthy-looking man who he knew had to be Ez, the other a petite blonde woman -- obviously Hayley. Zach gestured for Ben to take a seat across the aisle, after they'd stored their bags in the overhead bin, and then introduced him to the others before walking forward to the cockpit.
"Tell us a bit about yourself," Hayley said to Ben.
"Not much to tell. I'm an ex-cop who, for reasons I'd rather not go into at the moment ended up living on the streets."
"We don't keep secrets," Ez said sternly.
"Good, then tell me about you," Ben retorted, stretching out his bad leg, glad there was room enough that he could.
"Ex-bodyguard with a national security firm until Durand recruited me."
"Stole you away is more like it," Hayley said, grinning. "My father was furious. Then Durand asked me if I wanted to join Vanguard, too. It really frosted Dad's ass when I accepted."
"Don't let her size and cuteness fool you," Ez said. "She's damned good at what she does or she wouldn't have been working for her father to begin with."
Hayley nodded. "Dad wanted a son to follow in his footsteps, but it didn't work out that way so he resigned himself to me and trained me well."
"Very well," Zach said as he dropped down into the seat across from Ben.
At that point, the pilot announced that they should fasten their seatbelts and soon the plane was taxing down the runway.
"Okay," Zach said once they were in the air. "Here's what we know so far. The kidnappers have made their demands, our people have located where they're holding their victim."
"Building, house?" Ez asked succinctly.
"In a well-secured four-story, self-storage facility in the industrial area of the city," Zach replied. He stood to get a folder from his bag, sat again, and opened it. "This is a satellite-view of the area," he said, handing a copy to each of them.
"No fucking windows," Ez muttered. "Not good."
Studying the picture, Ben agreed with Ez's assessment. "We can get on the roof from parking garage next door, but then what?"
"I'm presuming they've got him in one of the storage units," Hayley said. "Do you know which one, Zach?"