Loverboy (The Company #2) by Sarina Bowen

1





Gunnar





“Excuse me, sir. I'm here to pick you up.“

I squint at the blond kid who’s approached me near the baggage carousel. He's holding one of those signs that drivers use to help their passengers identify them. Instead of my name, the sign bears a silhouette of a skeleton key, and nothing else.

That's The Company logo. And as further proof of his identity, the blond kid tugs aside the V-neck of his T-shirt to show me that he wears the same key inked on his skin.

I have one, too. In fact, I was the second person to ever get the team tattoo, just moments after Max Bayer—my college roommate and now boss—got his.

Even so, I won't get into a car with anyone unless I am certain the situation is legit. I’ve spent the past four years running our West Coast operation, so there are a bunch of New York-based agents I’ve never met.

But when I glance at my watch, there’s a new text from Max: I sent a kid to pick your grumpy ass up. The name is Duff. You're welcome.

"What's your name, kid?" I grunt.

"Duff, sir." He takes the handle of my suitcase right out of my hand. “Shall we go?”

“Thanks, Duff. What's your specialty?" I ask, because everyone in The Company has a specialty.

“Precision driving and high-speed ops."

“Sweet,” I say as we head for the doors. “Maybe you can take me for a spin on the track before I head back to San Jose.”

“It would be my pleasure," he says, holding the door. "How was your flight?"

“Fine. First class makes things bearable." Although I’m not sure why I’m here. Max called me to New York for a short-term assignment, but he didn’t provide details. All he’d said was: it has to be you.

Now, I like field work as much as the next guy. It keeps me sharp. But the lack of detail from Max is troublesome. And now he’s sent an obsequious man-child to carry my luggage and drive me around? There’s only one logical explanation.

This assignment must be horrific.

“I’m parked right over here,” Duff says, rolling my suitcase toward a gleaming sedan. “Make yourself comfortable. If you’re hungry, I’ve brought a meatball sub from ‘Wichcraft and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice."

My grip freezes on the handle of the passenger door. “You brought me my favorite sandwich?”

“Yessir.”

“Jesus fucking Christ."

"Is there a problem?" The kid looks alarmed.

“Absolutely. You know Max, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Right. So he took the time to send you in search of my favorite sandwich and my favorite beverage? Does he do that for everyone he asks to take an assignment?”

“Uh, I’m still kinda new here,” Duff says carefully.

“The answer is no. He doesn’t do that. Exactly what am I walking into, young Duff?”

He gets into the car, then hands me the bag from the deli without meeting my eyes.

I buckle in, and the radio comes on when he starts the car. The first thing I hear is the windbag of a mayor giving a press conference. Lovely. I hit the power button on the stereo and settle the car into silence. Then I open the deli bag.

Even if I have my suspicions, I’m not willing to let a perfectly good sandwich go to waste. So I take the first bite as he navigates to the Triboro Bridge. “God, this is good. Do you know what it is?"

“The sandwich?” Duff asks, eyes on the road.

“No, the assignment.”

The kid looks uncomfortable. "I'm not at liberty to say."

“Oh fuck. Come on, kid. You're going to make me walk in there cold? Let me know what I'm up against.”

“He made me promise I wouldn't tell. You wouldn't want to get me fired, would you? I have student loans.”

“Likely story,” I grumble. “This better not involve crawling through a drainpipe. I have done that kind of Shawshank Redemption thing once for Max and never again.”

Duff visibly shudders. “It's nothing like that.”

“Will I need a wetsuit? Or hazmat gear?”

“No! But that's the last question I'm answering.”

I stew on that as we reach the FDR. “This juice is really good, damn it. But if you let it slip that Max squeezed the oranges himself, I will have to dive out of this moving vehicle just to save myself.”

Duff barks out a laugh. “Keep your seatbelt on. The juice is from the deli. You're making a BFD for nothing. It's a cushy assignment.”

“Likely story.” Why would Max insist I fly to New York to take a cushy assignment? Like I'm not busy enough making both of us rich in California? And he knows I hate New York. “You'd better not be lying, kid. Do you know what my specialty is?”

“No?”

“Information extraction.”

“Seriously?”

“You are new, aren’t you? I’m just fucking with you. My specialty is covert ops and surveillance equipment. You still don’t want to fuck with me. I could rig your toilet paper roll to blast your farts over a sound system in Times Square.”

He laughs again. “I’ve been warned.”

“How is Max, anyway? I haven’t seen him in a few months.”