The bar they arrived at was in Kensington and was, for lack of a better description, swanky as hell. Dylan shouldn’t have been surprised as he doubted Alec ever set foot into casual pubs like the One-Eyed Goose. It was just as dark as that dingy pub but decorated in cold hard cash – endless black marble bar tops shined to perfection, sleek modern chairs and bar stools, a chilling collection of top-shelf liquor bottles behind the bar glowing in crisp white underlighting.
Alec weaved his way between the small, candlelit tables like he’d taken the path before. Two empty barstools waited for them at the far end of the room.
The wall behind the bar was mirrored, which made keeping an eye on the rest of the room remarkably easy. An assassin’s dream décor.
“Am I to assume you come here often?” Dylan asked, when a glass of brandy showed up on a napkin in front of Alec without ask.
He swirled the amber liquor and hid his smile in the first sip. “Everyone has their favorite places.”
“What would you like, sir?” the bartender asked. He was tall and fairly broad in the shoulders, dressed in all black. The stubble along his jaw suited him.
“Two shots of your finest tequila, chilled, and some limes.”
He turned away with a nod.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted,” Alec said. “I am…emotionally invested in this case and have always struggled to separate entirely from the reactions those emotions bring about.”
“I could have let him kill you.”
“Would anyone have missed you?” It was a rude question and far too personal for the type of acquaintances they were.
Alec took a sip of his drink. The bartender strained cold tequila into two pristine shot glasses and laid a lime wedge over each one.
Dylan took one without hesitation, bit into the lime as a chaser.
“Eventually,” Alec said. “I believe. There are a few people in law enforcement who would recognize me, spread the news to those they’d assume I was close to.”
Dylan thought that sounded a lot like a no. “I don’t think anyone would miss me.”
“Being alone tends to be a prerequisite for our line of work.”
It was easier that way, yes. He’d left for bootcamp with the weight of his family’s pride on his shoulders and before he even left for his first tour overseas he knew it was too heavy a burden to keep with him. It was better if he forgot he had anyone to come home to. “Yes, it does.”
He threw back his second shot.
“Did you mean what you said?” Alec asked. “That you’re finished now. You won’t be seeing this any further?”
He did mean it, at the time. He had enough contacts and information to go his own way. To find Mette or Bailey and get rid of him with a swift bullet to the brain before any other innocent lives were taken. He could do it alone. “We’ve got all those cell phones and laptops,” he said. “It’d be a pity to let it all go to waste.”
“I’d take good care of it.”
Dylan licked his lips, read some of the bottle labels sitting on the shelves across from him. “You weren’t the only one who bled for that intel.”
“And I’d rather not continue this on my own.”
“That’s not up to you.”
Alec swirled his drink again. “What could I say to make you reconsider?”
Dylan was already reconsidering. The fact was, without any training or planning, the two of them worked well together, almost naturally aware of where the other person was. And Alec, despite his tremor, was one of the best shots Dylan had seen in action recently. There was no doubt in Dylan’s mind that either one of them could find Mette or Bailey alone, but it would be a hell of a lot quicker if they used both of their skillsets. “Why didn’t you kill Mette yourself, back when he was your assignment?”
Alec’s face gave nothing away. “He wasn’t my assignment.”
“I was working a different job when the bombing happened. We’d all pitched in doing research and groundwork on Mette before that. It was a full ministry priority until suddenly there was something pressing in Nepal and they flew me out to take care of it. So, he wasn’t my assignment. Not when it happened.”
“So you, what? Gave the other agents, the ones assigned to him, two weeks to bring him down and when they weren’t successful yo--.”
“Gave you a call, yes. I outsourced.”
“You got the job done.”
“By any means necessary.”
That certainly seemed to be a very strong character trait of the man sitting next to him. Dylan used to be like that, he really did. He understood. “How did it feel when I told you it was over?”
Alec’s jaw worked as he swallowed. “It was the greatest relief of my life.”
Dylan could empathize with that feeling, knowing he wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder for that particular shadow anymore. The relief was almost as good as a hit of cocaine. “What’s the dumbest thing you’ve done recently? I’m talking like, really dumb.”
“What makes you think I have ever done anything dumb?”
“Don’t make me laugh.” Dylan didn’t roll his eyes, but he wanted to.
Alec leaned back in his seat, played with the silver cufflink on his right wrist. It glinted even in the dim lights of the bar. “The gun I have in my possession was supposed to be destroyed by MI6 when I was retired. I stole it. Among other things.”
“I have a military grade sniper rifle in a briefcase sitting in the closet of my apartment. Among other things.”
“Thieves of a feather?”
“Something like that,” he agreed. “That wasn’t very dumb.”
“No? How would you answer your question, then?”
“The night before I met you at that café, I spent nearly a grand at an illegal casino getting wasted on cheap beer and picking fights every time I lost a game of blackjack.”
“At least you weren’t playing roulette.”
“I think I might’ve ended up better off.”
Alec took pause. His index finger traced the rim of his glass and down over the curved base of it, pinched at the stem. “I spent over a thousand dollars on a bespoke suit and then wore it into battle.”
Dylan leaned back and crossed his arms, amused. “Yeah, that’s way dumber than stealing your gun.”
“My dry-cleaning bills are astronomical.”
“I can only imagine. Why do you wear them?”
“Feels like armor,” he answered immediately. “Putting on each part of the suit before a job became a routine and I found solace in that. And if I were to die, at least I’ll look stylish.”
Dylan was knowingly a very poor judge of character, but he was warming to this pompous, perfectly dressed asshole. “So, uh, I’m sure you know how I operate. How I choose the jobs I pick and the people I kill. I have rules.”
“In a very demented way, yes.”
“Are you asking me to follow your code?”
“Only while we work together,” Dylan said. “I can’t…put innocent people in danger. That family in number 19? I would have never forgiven myself if we’d broken into their house and killed them.”
“What else have you never forgiven yourself for?”
He wished he had a glass or a bottle, something to wrap his fingers around. A label to peel and shred on the bar. “No offense, but the list is too long and absolutely none of your fucking business.”
That earned him a soft laugh from Alec, barely a funny little exhale, lips curled up in a smile. “You’re right. Forgive my intrusion. It’s a habit I haven’t quite broken yet.”
Dylan got that. He had plenty of habits that were sewn into him that he’s still ripping the stitches out of. “Can you play by my rules for this?”
Alec finished off his glass, set it gently back in the center of the napkin. “I would very much like to try.”
Dylan understood that was about as close as he was going to get to agreement. “Well, I would drink to that, but we seem to be stuck with empty glasses.”
Alec easily grabbed the bartender’s attention and ordered them both another round. Dylan should have switched to beer but the tequila was a brand he only ever got when he felt particularly lush with money (read: rarely) so he indulged.
He tapped his shot glass to the edge of Alec’s brandy. “Cheers.”
“To Angus Mette,” Alec said, raising his glass in a toast. “May he roll over in his grave at the mess we make of what he built.”
Dylan tipped his shot back. “Fuck, people must love you at weddings. I’ll be right back.”
He slipped down off the barstool and wandered toward the back of the bar where he assumed the bathrooms were stationed.
The men’s room was just as classy as the rest of the bar. White basin sinks sat on top of black marble counters and the tile floor glittered in the dim overhead lighting. It was cold and clean. God, Dylan had probably never been in a bathroom so pristine.
He didn’t even make it across the room to the urinals before one of the stall doors slammed open and a blonde woman stepped into view, handgun stretched out in front of her.
This really needed to stop happening.
“Can I help you?” he asked, raising his hands in surrender.
“Dylan Rivers?” Her voice was nearly as posh as Alec’s, which was fitting since she was wearing a light grey suit that could rival his as well.
He didn’t really feel like he needed to answer her. “I think you probably know who I am since you have a gun pointed to my head.”
“What are you doing with Alec Thorne?” she asked, making a show of chambering a round.
“Having a drink.”
She took a step toward him. “You know that’s not what I mean.”
Dylan loved playing dumb, it made people so fucking angry. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to be more specific.”
“You and Alec have hit several known safehouses of a criminal organization based in London over the past three weeks. I’m interested in how you found those safehouses.”
“Money can buy you a lot of information,” he said. “I’m sure you know that.”
“What part does Alec play in this?”
“I mean, he’s sitting out at the bar, you could just go ask him yourself.”
“Are you blackmailing him?”
Dylan had to laugh. “Are you joking?”
She stepped closer to him, nearly at point blank range. “Are you paying him?”
“That man doesn’t need any more money,” he spat, tired of this conversation. “Especially not any of mine. You think Alec Thorne isn’t exactly where he wants to be? You must not know him very well.”
That little outburst earned Dylan a sharp backhand across the cheek. The woman wasn’t wearing any sharp jewelry, but the weight of her gun made it sting all the more. She didn’t pull her punches, that much was clear.
“Now that wasn’t very nice,” he said, right before he landed a punch to her nose.
It knocked her backward and Dylan twisted her wrist until she dropped her weapon. He shoved her toward one of the open stall doors. She fell through it but caught herself just before she would have landed on the toilet. She sneered.
“C’mon love, show me what you’ve got.”
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