Excerpt: Baby One Last Time – 3


By the time Mai and I entered the rec room, the rest of the operations team was already there, as well as our fearless leaders, Ms. X and Derek, both dressed in black. She wore a velvet pantsuit that suggested she had somewhere better to go after our gathering, and he wore jeans and a tee shirt that looked painted onto his buff body, damn him. My teammates still wore their black ops gear, including Mai, who looked like a cool-as-hell Ninja. Still garbed in the naughty Santa skirt and crop top I’d worn as bad-guy bait, I stood out like a Christmas party foul.

Derek seemed immune to the charms of my too-short, too-sparkly red outfit. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Disinterested barely glanced at me. Maybe his detachment was my punishment for the sin of flirting with another man in front of him for no good reason, and proof that I was now taking up space in his brain, if not his bed. One step at a time.

“Nice tattoo,” Jensen said, glancing at the pink flamingo on my hip as he approached us. “In honor of that, I’ve made a special drink.”

Everyone groaned. Undaunted, Jensen pulled a cloth towel off a tray he carried, revealing ten shot glasses full of something fuchsia and fizzy.

“Nope,” I said.

Mai nudged me in the ribs, then took two glasses and handed one to me.

“That’s more like it,” Jensen said.

The rest of the group, including X, took a glass. Some made the mistake of sniffing the concoction. Alder, Mai, and I demurred. Alder and I had too much experience with Jensen’s bar antics, and Mai was a fast learner. My respect for her kicked up a notch.

“If I may do the honors,” X said. She lifted her shot glass and looked around the room, making eye contact with each of us as she spoke. “You did good work tonight, all the more impressive given how quickly this team was put together.” She rested her gaze on me. Yeah, not my favorite thing in the world to be on the receiving end of X’s hawkish scrutiny. “Keep up the good work, Reindeer Team.”

TJ hoisted his glass in the air. “To the Reindeer Team.”

We all lifted our glasses. “To the Reindeer Team.”

X and Sparks sipped their shots, an amateur move, and grimaced. X actually went a little pale, which is tough to do for someone whose coloring is a few shades livelier than a corpse. The rest of us threw ours back, which wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped. The fizziness rose up in my sinuses and made my eyes water. I coughed as what could have been lighter fluid slid down my throat.

“What the hell?” Mai said, wiping tears from her own eyes. “You’d think something that looks like cotton candy would be sweet.”

Alder set down her glass and cleared her throat. “I do not want to know what he did to make it fizzy.”

“You don’t want to ask because you know I won’t tell you,” Jensen said. He took down his own portion in a long, slow pull, making the rest of us gag again.

X made a good show of teamwork by emptying her glass. She wished us a hearty goodbye, but she got the hell out of there fast, grabbing a bottled water on her way out the door.

Sparks fired up some music, something too hip for me to know, with a pounding bass. Penn showed off some of his best moves, which were to dancers what Jensen’s drinks were to bartenders. None of us appeared to have missed our calling for some other line of work.

Bond grabbed a bottle of tequila and filled clean shot glasses, while Alder talked Jensen down from trying any more alcoholic experiments, at least for the time being. We cleared our palates with the sharp spirits, then Bond, Alder, Mai, and I took seats on barstools, mine around the bend of the bar, which gave me a view of the entire room. Mai flashed me a look that said she wished she’d grabbed that seat. It’s a Tactical thing, always wanting situational awareness of the environment. Bond poured seconds for the four of us, while Jensen slipped behind the bar to plot his next disaster.

Derek’s subtle glances drew my attention like a magnet finding true north. His interest had finally superseded his pride. He held his shot of tequila, still untouched. When I met his gaze, he lifted his glass a tiny bit higher in a private toast between us. He’d been waiting for me.

I picked up a second shot of tequila and we drank together, our eyes locked.

When his glass was empty, he dropped his gaze to my breasts squeezed into my too-tight top, and responded to the view with a tiny tug at the corner of his mouth, telegraphing his appreciation for my revealing attire.

Apparently, I was forgiven for my earlier transgression and was allowed to see his desire for me. Whether it was pure lust or something more was difficult to say.