Midnight Quest

By: Lisa Marie Rice

A Short 'Men of Midnight' Novel

Portland, Oregon

It was a surprise, coming home early. She wasn’t expecting him until tomorrow night. Morton “Jacko” Jackman closed the front door behind him and quietly walked into the house to look for Lauren, the woman who held his heart.

It had been a long week. A Monday-to-Friday job advising a bank in Tijuana on security. He was supposed to fly back on Friday evening, tomorrow. But Jacko had missed Lauren ferociously and had worked eighteen-hour days in order to wrap things up and get away at noon today. He’d made his way back home by flying south to Guadalajara and then back north to Portland via Los Angeles. It had been a three-flight, nine-hour slog instead of a three-hour direct flight, just to spend an extra night at home.

But man, was it worth it. Worth every second of transiting through dismal, crowded airports and sitting in cramped airline seats eating cheap, crap cookies and drinking weak, lukewarm sludge. All forgotten in an instant because…there she was.

Just look at her, he thought, sitting in her pretty little study, working at her computer.

She didn’t know he was there. Jacko was naturally quiet—he was a trained sniper, after all—and she hadn’t heard him come in. He watched her working, silently absorbed.

He just loved looking at her when she was focused on a drawing or watercolor. She looked like she was channeling some higher power. Like magic was beaming down to earth through her.

She was listening to music, a Bach concerto. Now wasn’t that a kick in the ass, him recognizing Bach? Before Lauren, Limp Bizkit was more his style. The only classics he knew were AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. But now he could tell Bach from Mozart from Beethoven. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. Dead white guys, all of them, but now part of his life.

Lauren was drawing on a tablet, the results showing on the monitor. She was designing a book cover. It was a sideline that was really taking off and she had a list of clients as long as his dick. She sometimes consulted him, though the fuck he knew about book covers? Whatever he managed to mumble in response, she always thanked him and went back to work, saying he’d helped her define what she wanted.

They Skyped every evening he was in Tijuana and last night she said she’d gotten the commission to design covers for a fantasy trilogy, The Ironlands.

What she had so far was striking. A dusky-skinned woman with a strong face, dark hair around her shoulders, one silver streak of hair across her forehead, matching silver eyes. Beautiful, resolute, those amazing eyes seemed to watch him from across the room. The Iron Princess was the title, in what seemed letters cast in iron. She looked exactly like someone who could rule over The Ironlands.

Jacko cocked his head to see better but his movement must have created some kind of disturbance in the force, because Lauren suddenly lifted her head and turned around.

And her face lit up with joy. Just…lit up. Like Jacko had brought Christmas and her birthday and the Fourth of July with him. Pure joy.

No one ever lit up at the sight of him. In the Teams, the guys were happy to see him, sure, because when he turned up, it meant that the tango a thousand yards out was going to get whacked. Other than that, his colleagues at ASI were fine with working with him, having a beer and playing poker with him. But their faces didn’t light up when they saw him. Only Lauren’s did that.

He rubbed his chest for a second, because something hurt inside, then braced himself as Lauren stood up and ran to him. Two steps away, she threw herself at him, knowing he’d catch her.

Oh yeah, he’d catch her. Always.

As his arms closed around her, that low-level anxiety he felt when he was away from her dissipated like smoke in the wind. Jacko didn’t do anxiety, except when it came to Lauren. The possibility of something bad happening to her, of losing her, was the only thing he was really afraid of.

When he was out of town, he always had this crazy worry.

Though, get real, he told himself. When an ASI guy had to go out of town, his teammates banded together to make sure his lady was safe. Every time he talked to headquarters, they made sure he knew Lauren was okay. Isabel and Felicity had stopped by the house several times and Lauren had been to dinner at Isabel and Joe’s. He’d gotten a mouthwatering description of the menu, too. And he Skyped Lauren every evening. So, yeah, he knew she’d been safe.

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