1 – WESLEY
“Hey, can anyone explain why my shirt drawer is empty?” Ridge Pfeiffer demanded, appearing on the patio where the rest of our little band had congregated. Our resident retrievals expert (read: thief) was naked from the waist up and scowling beneath his blue eyes and blond curls like the world’s most overgrown, pissed-off Botticelli angel.
I pulled down my sunglasses to look at him, then slid them back up so I could focus on my phone screen. Right now, I was engaged in a long-term bout of spear phishing at Campbell Enterprises, and I was about to close the deal. This was way more interesting than anything Ridge was likely to share.
Janie, I typed, I’m on a plane with Dal Anderson and he wants a four-paragraph summary of Thursday’s press release so we can prepare talking points for the investors!! Can’t access the secure server from here and I’m fah-reaking OUT!! Send me something? – Becks
There. That ought to do it.
Becks, aka Rebecca Frankel, Junior Executive Assistant to the VP of Human Resources at Campbell, according to her LinkedIn profile, was adorably naïve and helpful. For example, when a friendly IT man had called the other day and asked for her credentials to verify a “suspicious login” from her site, she’d provided all the necessary info. Hell, if I’d asked for her astrological sign and social security number, she’d probably have given me that too.
Once I’d accessed her email, I’d had the keys to the castle. It had been easy to copy her writing style – hyper-friendly, with way too many exclamation points for a person over the age of thirteen – to learn that she was going on a business trip with her boss this week, and to find that she was smoke-break buddies with Sondra DeVoor, Assistant to the CFO. As soon as Sondra emailed back a summary of Thursday’s press release to help her pal out, I’d make a few quick investment decisions like I’d somehow learned to predict the future.
Hint: Ditch your psychic friends and go phishing instead.
“Um, would we say the drawer is really empty, though?” Breck, Ridge’s identical twin, asked from the lounge chair where he was stretched out in the sun practically on top of his boyfriend, Steele Alvarez.
“Close enough. The only things left are a pink tank top that says I Would Bottom You So Hard and this Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt.” Ridge held it up. “Neither of them is mine, and frankly I don’t feel comfortable wearing either.”
“Hey!” Carson exclaimed from the shade at the edge of the patio. “That Pittsburgh shirt is mine. I’d wondered what happened to it!”
“Well, you can fucking have it, dude,” Ridge said, holding it out. “I don’t know how it ended up in my drawer.”
“Come bring it to me,” Carson commanded, adding the little world-weary British inflection to his voice that seemed to drive all the boys wild. “I don’t want to get out in the sun.”
“Are you an actual vampire? Or is that just what you’re impersonating this week?” Leo drawled. The FBI-agent-on-hiatus who liked to consider himself our leader barely looked up from his e-reader, which I happened to know contained nothing but dull biographies of politicians and a couple non-fiction books about religious extremism. Ho-hum.
“Yes, Leonard. That’s it. I’m afraid you won’t be able to resist my dazzling sparkles and century-old penis if I come any closer.” Carson nodded thanks at Ridge as Ridge passed him the shirt. “You know, some of us are just concerned about skin cancer.”
Uh huh. I’d bet my original custom Alienware rig and all the classic games loaded thereon – current value: priceless – that Leo was on the right track. Carson was a con man with a dozen identities that we knew of and probably a dozen more we didn’t. No doubt he was working a gig that required him to be pale as a ghost, though fuck if I could imagine what it was. Not for the first time, I was tempted to peek at the man’s computer – child’s play for any decent hacker, and I was way more than decent.
I wouldn’t hack Carson, though, even to satisfy my curiosity, because of trust and boundaries and being a team player, and all the other happy horse shit my Aunt Ade had hammered into me. Blah, blah, blah.
“Can we back up the bus to the part where Angel-Face isn’t comfortable wearing the Bottom t-shirt?” Steele began. The muscle of our operation paused as he realized what he’d said, then he started to chuckle. “Heh. Back up the bus.”
Breck giggled like it was his job, and I rolled my eyes behind my glasses because Steele’s joke didn’t even make sense, let alone make me laugh. Must be nice to have someone appreciate your dumb jokes and agree with you all the time.
“Yep. There’s just nothing as hilarious as making assumptions about someone’s sexual preferences based on their appearance,” Danny bitched from his chair. As usual, he was lounging around in nothing but a Speedo as if clothes were against his religion. “You two are so cutesy. It’s nauseating.”
“Spoken like a guy who hasn’t gotten laid in way too long.” Ridge leered at Danny in a totally unconvincing way. “I could help you with that.”
Danny didn’t even open his eyes. “All set, thanks. Meet Lefty, my new boyfriend.” He held up his left hand. “He knows exactly how I like it, he gets the job done, and he’s always there when I need him.” What he didn’t say, because we all knew, was that Lefty was unlikely to assault him and abuse his trust like now-disgraced Senator John Harlan had, when Danny and Breck had been working as rent boys up in D.C.
“Aw. I think that’s kinda sad,” Breck said.
“And I think fuck you,” Danny returned easily.
I ducked my head to hide my smile. What was it about Danny Munroe that got me? I mean, aside from the fact that subtle smartassery was my catnip and that the forty acres of smooth, tanned skin and lean muscles he displayed made me want to…
“Fuck both of you. Can we get back to the part where I have been stolen from?” Ridge demanded. “I mean, you think you’re in a relatively protected environment, you think your shit is safe where you left it, and then suddenly, you find that things you care about are missing. I feel… violated.”
There was absolute silence on the patio as each of us turned to look at Ridge. Leo put down his Kindle. Danny sat up and opened his eyes. Breck and Steele stopped eye-fucking. Carson leaned forward.
Ridge blinked, then tilted his head to the side, as though considering what he’d said. He shook his head. “No. Nope. This is not irony, you assholes. I have never stolen a man’s shirts.”
“Only because you couldn’t get a fair price for them,” Carson sighed, sitting back in his seat.
“Shook, you’re an investigator. Find what happened to my shirts!”
“Sure,” Leo said, swiping his finger across his screen like he couldn’t possibly give less of a fuck. “Let’s make a list of suspects. Who could wear your crappy shirts?”
“Well, me,” Ridge said. “Danny, but God knows he doesn’t wear shirts anyway.” Danny snorted. “Wes, I guess.” He looked at me. “But he doesn’t have my taste. Or any taste. And then there’s, uh…” He looked at Breck and narrowed his eyes.
“Rather than stealing,” Breck said, licking his lips, “which is such a harsh word, maybe it would help you to think of it as liberation?”
“You stole my shirts!” Ridge roared. “Jesus Christ. My own brother?”
“Well, I didn’t have my own for a while, while all my stuff was back in D.C., and then… um… I guess I just decided I liked yours better?” Breck grinned winningly.
“You couldn’t borrow shirts from your boyfriend?”
“No. I mean… have you seen my boyfriend?” Breck ran a hand across the massive expanse of Steele’s chest while Steele smirked like the smug bastard he was.
“You are a shithead, Breck Mason Pfeiffer,” Ridge announced. “I expect my shirts back in my possession within the hour, or a reign of terror will commence the likes of which you have never seen.”
Breck stuck out his tongue.
“See, all of this could be solved if you guys would just embrace nudity,” Danny said sleepily. “Free the pecs.”
I snorted under my breath, but of course, Danny heard me and lifted his head to give me a dirty look.
Jesus. Say one shitty little thing about a guy being a prostitute and suddenly he was giving me crap over every breath I exhaled, riding my ass day and night.
And not in the fun way.
There were times when I really didn’t get what the fuck I was doing here. I mean, yeah, sure, Charlie had some dirt on me that I really didn’t want to get out. But unlike the rest of these guys, I figured I had some dirt on Charlie, too. He’d been an information broker, but I specialized in information acquisition. I could find some shit on Charlie’s companies or make some up if I had to, that would invalidate anything he had on me. I could plant enough evidence to have Miranda arrested for being a high-profile madam – and no lie, the idea amused the hell out of me – before she could turn me in to the authorities. Hell, I could get each of these guys locked up without breaking a sweat.
And even though I liked them better now than I had in the beginning, sometimes it was hard to remember why I’d given up my cushy little set-up back in Elm Lawn to come down to the Island of Misfit Criminals.
I’d never exactly played well with others.
“Mail call!” Josie yelled, walking out onto the patio.
As usual, everyone turned at the sound of Josie’s voice, primarily because the woman always seemed to be bringing us tasty food or alcoholic beverages. After just a few weeks, the Pavlovian response had already been ingrained.
Today, Josie was wearing a short white skirt, white platform boots, and a flowery scarf. Was an Austin Powers sequel filming nearby? I wouldn’t put it past her to be in it if there were.
“Mail call?” I asked. “As in, someone got actual physical mail delivered here?” People still mailed stuff?
“Only Ridge,” she said, grinning. “But I’ve always wanted to say mail call!”
I smiled back. It was impossible not to like Josie.
She handed Ridge a magazine, and he quickly rolled it up and stuffed it in the back of his pants. Was he blushing?
“And for the second part of mail call, may I present the one and only Miraaaanda Bosley!” Josie threw her hands out like a gameshow host, given us the jazz hands.
Miranda stepped out onto the patio in a blue sleeveless dress, carrying a briefcase in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. “Subtle, Josie. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome!” Josie chirped. “Listen, fridge is full of snacks, there are steaks if you wanna grill ‘em, but I’ve got an underwater demolition class in half an hour and I’m running late. You’re on your own, boys…and Miranda.”
Ridge frowned. “You’re taking an underwater demolition class?”
“What? No!” Josie laughed. “God! Wouldn’t that be a trip? Me, learning about underwater demolition at my age?” She shook her head like Ridge was hilarious.
“But you said…”
“Teaching it, Ridge, honey. I’m teaching the class.”
Ridge stared at Josie like she was a unicorn, mostly because she was.
My phone buzzed in my hand.
A new email from Sondra with a lovely little attachment and a smiley face.
God. If there was a bigger rush than this, I hadn’t found it, and I was sure it couldn’t be obtained legally. I fucking loved calling the shots, I loved being in control. I loved knowing I’d never be powerless again. And I loved that I the buzz came with the added bonus of actually helping other people.
Of course, today’s project wasn’t anything particularly newsworthy. Obtaining info from a pesky little press release – information that would be made public in a few days’ time anyway – wasn’t the same as using a bot army to access vulnerabilities in a server, but I wasn’t doing it to impress anyone. And besides, I much preferred the art of social engineering over smash-and-grab theft any day. Get some inside information, make some smart investments, profit, and make sure other folks profit too.
I preferred to think of it as redistribution of wealth rather than theft. Or, like Breck said, I was just liberating the money from the ultra-rich so I could set it free with a charity that supported underprivileged kids in Chicago…or maybe hurricane victims down in Puerto Rico.
I glanced up, startled to find Miranda standing in front of me. I been caught up in imagining all the good I could and hadn’t heard her approaching. Why was everyone looking at me like….oh, damn. My eyes locked on the manila envelope in Miranda’s hand. I knew that enveloped. It was identical to the one Steele had opened a few weeks back that had led us to investigate John Harlan.
Looked like it was my turn.
MISS THE FIRST BOOK? READ PROS & CONS OF VENGEANCE IN KU!
FIVE JOBS. FIVE CHANCES FOR REDEMPTION.
One thing’s for sure: these men are no angels.
There’s nothing like being blackmailed by a dead man to really bring a group of cons together. And what a group we are: a hacker, a thief, a con artist, a thug, and a Federal agent with an axe to grind. The deal is simple, we do the jobs and Charlie’s lawyer wipes the slate clean for each of us, one at a time.
Since job number one calls for some muscle, it looks like I’m up first. I’m Steele Alvarez, ex-Special Forces Close Protection Specialist (aka, a bodyguard for some not so nice guys). After learning what the job is — taking down a seemingly untouchable senator with a penchant for beating up young male prostitutes — I’m in. No questions. A bullet ought to do the trick. Then I met Senator Harlan’s latest victim: Breck Pfeiffer, the gorgeous hooker with a heart of gold and the soul of a fighter.
One look at him and I’m gone. That kid laid me out harder than any punch ever did. I’ll do anything to protect Breck, even kill for him. But Breck doesn’t want the senator dead, he wants vengeance. If we’re going to find a way bring down the slimebag and get the blackest mark on my record erased, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.