Brighter Than the Sun

Page 8

“Maren’s going to be fine,” Ethan spoke up. “That woman is a fighter. All our women are fighters. You said it yourself. She’s already survived the worst. Enjoy it, man. It only gets sweeter and sweeter from here on out. You can’t dwell on the past or it’ll eat you alive. Take it from someone who knows.”

Steele looked up at Joe’s brother, Ethan, understanding instantly flashing, his expression sobering at the remembrance of what he and his wife, particularly Rachel, had endured and where they were now. Stronger than ever. Rachel was a survivor. A fucking fierce survivor who’d refused to quit. Joe had never admired anyone in his life as much as he did his two sisters-in-law, Rachel and Shea. Both had endured the unimaginable for his brothers.

Steele’s expression was pained when he glanced back up at Ethan. Another uncharacteristic display of his usually locked-down emotions. “God, I sound like such an asshole.”

Ethan smiled. “No. We all need to be reminded how blessed we are and not to drive ourselves crazy with worrying about what might happen, or with mistakes or things we have no control over.”

Sam cleared his throat. “If the morning meltdown is over, perhaps we can get to business?”

Steele shot him a glower but seemed relieved to have the attention diverted from him.

“Do carry on, oh lord and master,” Donovan drawled irreverently. “I have a date with my wife and kids that I’d like to embark on before, say, next week.”

Yep, business as usual once more. A sigh of relief seemed to settle over the room. Blowing shit up, bringing down the bad guys, being shot at, none of that was as uncomfortable as witnessing emotional meltdowns from men and women who made their living being ultimate badasses.

“As most of you know, or at least those who’ve bothered to pay attention,” Sam said, making another amused dig at certain members of his teams, “we’ve hired two new recruits. Everyone’s met Ryker Sinclair, Eden’s brother, and Hancock’s, as well.”

A collective good-natured groan sounded at the name of their once archnemesis, who like Steele had done an abrupt about-face and gone from a cold, emotionless machine whose sole objective was to accomplish the mission however it had to be done to a man who lost his damn mind if his new wife so much as stubbed her toe.

And this is what Joe’s mother and sisters-in-law wanted for him? On that, he’d take a rain check. A very extended rain check that he was in no hurry to cash in. He liked his sane life just as it was. Sane. Thank you very much.

“He’ll be joining Skylar, Edge, Swanny, the team headed by Nathan and Joe.”

Ryker cracked a grin. “Swanny, you should know that my sister has threatened to kick my ass unless I watch over her beloved husband and make sure he doesn’t ever come home with any missing body parts.”

Swanny rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well you got off light. She’s told me in exacting detail what happens to me if her precious brother so much as gets a scratch. Pussy boy.”

Allie scowled, scrunching her features into a ferocious expression of disapproval.

“Are any of you ever serious or did I sign on with a circus act? I thought this job was about being a well-oiled machine, training at the highest level and taking on missions that changed the lives of others for good.”

More than one look of surprise was cast her way, but Rio just smirked, as did the rest of his team.

“Told you she’d fit right into you bunch of antisocial grouches,” Sam said with no heat.

At that Allie’s expression became even more outraged. Given the fact she’d already taken down half their asses in hand-to-hand, those closest to her warily backed off and eyed her cautiously.

“They’re just shitting you, Allie,” Skylar soothed, though Joe could tell Allie’s remarks had annoyed her. “We can’t be serious all the time or this job would eat us alive. I think you’ll find that our sense of humor, or the lack thereof in a few select cases, in no way affects our ability to kick some serious ass when it’s called for.”

“Hooyah!” Ethan and Cole crowed simultaneously.

“I’m sorry if you took offense at our blowing off some steam,” Donovan said seriously. “But what Sky said is true. When we face death on every mission we take, we learn to live for the moment and not dwell on the what-ifs. We know that every time we leave our wives, husbands or loved ones, it might be the last time we ever see them. Everyone deals with the pressure in their own way and we try not to judge unless it’s completely out of line. Most of us have been together for a long time and we’ve seen one another through shit that would destroy others or make them hang it up and simply walk away. We chose you because you’re the best new recruit we’ve ever hired, with skills we not only need but that will make us even better as a team. Nothing in this organization is about one person. To borrow a phrase you’ll hear often around here, we live and die by the team. And that means that not one of us is out for him or herself. So I hope we haven’t given you the wrong impression. We certainly meant you no disrespect, and I do hope you’ll choose to remain on our side.”

“Yeah, please do,” Garrett grumbled. “You’d kick our asses if you were pitted against us.”

For a brief second, Allie actually smiled. Wow, and her face didn’t even crack. Damn, but when she wasn’t so fucking serious and wearing that pinched-ass expression, she was one beautiful woman. Straight midnight black hair, creamy skin and beautiful eyes, part of her Asian heritage. When she smiled, it was as though her entire face transformed, and Joe wasn’t the only one affected. Others were similarly stunned as they stared back at their newest female warrior. Maybe there was hope for her yet. She was going to have to loosen up quick, or this job would eat her alive and spit her back out.

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