In honor of THE FIXER (The Criminals 2) coming sometime in February, I wanted to share Chapter One of THE NULLIFIER and possibly tease you into buying the first book of The Criminals. Enjoy!
Gay Romance, Suspense, Erotic Romance, Lawless, May/Dec
Word Count: 44,225
Heat Level: 4
Published By: Evernight Publishing
Chapter One Excerpt:
“I’m too old for this shit,” Felix Zamaro muttered, setting down his binoculars. He rubbed his eyes, wishing he’d managed more than four hours of sleep last night. He peered through the open window tiredly. His target loitered at an outdoor café across the street drinking his sixth cup of coffee, two floors below the apartment building in which Felix currently sat. How the hell could one guy drink so much caffeine? Felix didn’t get it. If he did that, he’d be fucking pissing every half hour.
He picked up his binoculars and resumed staring at the man currently on the top of his to-off list. He hated this part of the job— the constant surveillance really fucked with his mood these days. Didn’t matter if it was sunny or rainy or fucking three below. The boredom really got to him. It hadn’t always been this bad. He wasn’t a man given to strong emotions, but he remembered enjoying the chase just a bit more when he’d first gotten into this business. That sense of satisfaction had long worn off. Now it was just a job, and a tedious one, at that.
The guy finally waved down a waiter for his check, and Felix breathed out a sigh of relief. “Fucking finally.” He had no idea why the contract stipulated the man had to be taken out at this particular café, and he didn’t much care as long as the money went into his account in a timely fashion. He squinted down at the mark. The guy’s hair had fluffed up in the slight breeze. He’d have to take the wind into consideration when shooting, but that was nothing new.
He exchanged his binoculars for his Ruger M77. He’d been using this type of rifle for so long, he didn’t even have to think about
what to do with his hands. It slid into position on his shoulder almost automatically, and when he squeezed the trigger, his target went down in a fraction of a second. Felix stood up and stepped back from the peeling windowsill, already shoving the rifle into its soft case. He scanned the room for any stray speck of evidence, then grunted in satisfaction. As per his usual, the place held no sign of his presence. The occupants of this grimy apartment would never even know he’d been here.
At least not until the police come knocking on their door, looking for a killer, he thought, resetting their deadbolt with his lockpicks. He walked down the hall of the apartment building at a normal pace. He felt no guilt over what they’d go through. There was enough drug paraphernalia in their nasty little place to choke a horse and his rider. The people that lived there deserved everything that would happen to them. He looked at the elevator, then decided to take the stairs. He needed the physical exertion after all the sitting around. He pushed open the door, then peeled off his gloves and shoved them into his pockets. When he reached the ground floor, he opened the outer door with his hip, careful not to touch anything with his bare hands.
“And that’s three frigging days of my life I’ll never get back,” he said under his breath, readjusting his bag on his shoulder. He spared a glance for the commotion across the street, ducking his head so the security camera on the corner wouldn’t get a good bead on him. The bullet they’d find in the guy’s head would be completely unremarkable: it was one of the most common rounds used worldwide. His rifle wasn’t expensive, either, and could be easily replaced, and therefore not easily traced. In fact, he’d replaced it several times over the past twenty years. He didn’t get attached to his equipment, not like some people did. No sense in it.
Two and a half hours later, after traveling out of the city and dropping off his gear at his storage unit, he entered the small mini mart near his latest house rental, looking for something quick and easy to eat for dinner. They had decent sandwiches and coffee. He’d only lived here six months, and he’d be moving on soon, but even so, he recognized the cashier. She smiled at him, and he nodded, friendly and unassuming. It wouldn’t do to get pegged as a loner creep. Two shoppers on their way out, an old lady and her husband, took no note of him as he walked through the store, which was just how he liked it.
He decided to fill up the tank on his pickup while he was there, and headed toward the rear refrigerators to get his dinner first. The rattle of the bell over the door told him some new people had entered, and he automatically checked the exits at the rear of the store. It wouldn’t do to get lazy. When he turned around, hands full of turkey salad on rye, he cursed under his breath. A stupid young punk had a gun pointed at the forehead of the girl behind the counter.
“Empty the drawer and no one gets hurt.” The guy looked around nervously, hoodie falling half off his head. He shoved it back up impatiently, red shot eyes bright with adrenaline and some other illegal substance.
Felix put his sandwich down on the shelf holding bright rows of chip bags. He didn’t have any weapons on him except his pocketknife. He didn’t like to carry when he wasn’t working because men with guns had a tendency to use them, and he didn’t need the temptation or the hassle. He eased forward. The idiot with the pistol couldn’t see him from this angle. Just as he reached the end of the row of snack foods, he noticed another guy with a shotgun. Felix’s stomach growled, and he pressed his lips together. He wanted his dinner. He wanted to fill up his damn gas tank. He did not want to be dicking around with two loser punks in a mini mart. What a clusterfuck, he thought, irritated.
“Hurry up,” the one with the shotgun growled, swinging it around. “We don’t got all night.”
Felix narrowed his eyes. Mr. Shotgun didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing with his equipment. Didn’t even have the safety off. He wasn’t sure if he felt more annoyed at the lack of professionalism, or at the amount of time it was going to take to deal with this bullshit. He edged forward, eyes on the robber with the shotgun. The moment he rounded the end cap, the guy would see him, so he’d have to act fast. Sobs from the cashier told him that she wasn’t too happy at the way her night was going, either. He paused and centered himself, pushing away the fatigue of a long, boring day. Just as he was about to crouch down and take out shotgun guy, the front door opened.
“Fuck.” His options suddenly narrowed, Felix rushed forward, grabbing the shotgun and wrestling it out of the man’s grip. He reversed it, then clubbed the asshole over the head. The guy staggered, but didn’t go down. “Stupid ox.” He tossed the shotgun
down the aisle, and it skittered under the rear refrigerators as he blocked a wild throw to his face. From the corner of his eye, he saw the man who’d opened the front door freeze, eyes wide. “Gonna be collateral fucking damage if he doesn’t move,” Felix muttered, grunting when Mr. Shotgun managed to land a punch on his hip. “Stupid.” Twisting, he swung cupped hands at the man’s head, and Mr. Shotgun screamed as his eardrums burst. He went down, writhing in pain.
A shot rang out and glass shattered, but Felix was already moving. He grabbed the guy with the smoking handgun in one swift move. Two seconds later the robber had a fractured wrist, and Felix was breaking down the gun into pieces. He put them on the counter in front of the sobbing cashier. Mr. Handgun slumped to the floor, holding his wrist and moaning.
“Jesus. Shut the fuck up. You’re not dead,” Felix said, shoving at the punk’s thigh with the tip of his boot. “It’s just a simple fracture.”
The guy blinked, but he shut his mouth once he got a good look at the annoyance on Felix’s face.
“Oh my God,” the cashier said, trembling and staring at man on the floor. “Oh my God.” She gripped the counter as if that was the only thing holding her upright.
And maybe it is, Felix thought, exasperated. “You’re all right. It’s all over,” he told her, tossing the magazine of the robber’s weapon onto the counter. “Call nine-one-one,” he told the girl, and then he turned to the front door. The man coming in hadn’t moved. Felix let his eyes catalogue the guy: jeans, a soft pullover sweater, keys in hand. No weapons. Shaggy blond hair falling across his forehead, blue eyes. Broken glass all around him. Good looking. Not a threat.
Felix turned back to the cashier. “Did you call the cops?”
She hiccupped, shaking her head. “What?” Mascara ran down her face in thick black streaks.
Felix inhaled deeply, then let it out again slowly. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool. Not now. Not ever. “Call nine-one-one,” he said again, more gently this time. The girl picked up the phone near the register with shaky hands.
“All I wanted was some damned coffee,” the blond guy near the door said, staring at the carnage. He held his right hand over his
left shoulder. Blood dripped down through his fingers. “Shit.” He grimaced.
Felix sighed and strode over. He was really fucking hungry, but he knew he wouldn’t be eating anytime soon. “Let me see.”
The blond frowned at him.
Felix impatiently pulled the man’s hand away and inspected the wound. “Grazed you. Might need stitches.” He craned his head, then nodded in satisfaction when he saw the round stuck in the column just outside the door. “It’s a clean in and out. You’ll live.”
The guy blinked. “I never thought I wouldn’t.”
Felix put the man’s hand back over the wound. “Steady pressure.” He paused, more than a little surprised by how irritated he was that the bullet had hurt an innocent bystander. The guy didn’t deserve it, but it wasn’t like Felix gave a shit. He didn’t dwell on random bullshit much. “Sorry. I had to deal with the shotgun first, or we would’ve had a bigger mess in here,” he offered, not sure why he was talking to the man.
The blond guy stared at him. “I’m not angry with you.”
Felix stepped back, inexplicably distracted. The blue sweater the guy wore was a perfect match for his eyes. “Good.” He turned as the punk with the broken wrist tried to struggle to his feet. “Stay down, dumbass.” Felix walked over and loomed over him. The other robber was still on the floor, hands over his ears. Felix knew how much burst eardrums hurt, so he wasn’t surprised that guy wasn’t trying to get up.
“Fuck you,” the guy at Felix’s feet said, glaring.
Felix sighed, then put his boot on the man’s thigh. “I can break your knee, too.”
The man’s eyes went wide with rage, but he went still. “Asshole,” he muttered.
Felix shrugged. “Yeah. Yeah, I am. So, don’t push me. I’m already in a bad fucking mood.” He looked towards the door as the sound of sirens in the distance grew louder. “You doing okay?” He asked the guy with the arm injury. “Not feeling dizzy?”
The blond shrugged, then winced. He’d slumped against the doorjamb, and looked tired. “I’m fine.”
Felix glanced at the cashier. She nodded at him, phone still against her ear. He looked back down at the jerk at his feet, tempted to break the man’s knee just because. He really just wanted a fucking
sandwich. And then he wanted to go home and crack open a cold beer while he checked to make sure all the money he was owed went into the proper accounts.
“We’re going to be here a while, aren’t we?” the blond guy asked.
Felix stepped back from the man on the floor, taking himself away from temptation. The cops were already going to be all over him for breaking the guy’s wrist. “Yeah,” he said, resigned to going hungry for at least a few hours. “We are.”
Nick Banner’s left arm throbbed, even after the shot of
anesthetic the EMT had given him before she’d sewn him up. He hadn’t wanted to go to the hospital, so she’d stitched him up and told him to get himself to his doctor for antibiotics. Now, he sat on the curb outside the mini mart, waiting for the cop grilling his hero to stop being an asshole.
“I told you, I saw the guy with the pistol first. When the guy with the shotgun tackled me, I grabbed it and hit him over the head with it. He kept coming. My training kicked in. End of story,” the man was explaining. Again.
Nick watched the expression on the guy’s face grow increasingly colder as the idiot cop repeated the same questions for the fifth time, as if that would get him a different answer. Nick needed his caffeine fix. And he desperately wanted to be the hell away from here, preferably with tall, dark, and handsome joining him. The guy was just his type: thick, dark hair a man could grab onto, and a beard that highlighted the dude’s excellent jaw line. Piercing hazel eyes held a multitude of secrets. Nick shook his head. He had to stop staring, or the guy would catch on to how badly he wanted in his pants, and he was almost one hundred percent sure the man was straight. And if Nick had one rule it was this one: don’t fuck straight guys. That was a good way to get your heart broken.
And very possibly my face, too, he thought, remembering that one time in college and the black eye it’d taken weeks to heal. He wasn’t likely to lose a fight these days, but he still preferred to avoid confrontations if he could. He was more of a silent but deadly type than a showman.
“Look, I’m done here. You have my info.” The guy walked away in the middle of the cop’s question.
Damn. Guy’s got balls to spare, Nick thought, amused. When the man neared him, he struggled to his feet, trying to ignore the pain in his bicep. “Hey,” he said. His voice cracked. The guy stood at least four inches taller than he did. He cleared his throat. “Thanks for saving my life.” He held out his right hand.
The guy frowned at him. “I didn’t save your life.”
Nick persisted. “Okay, but you probably saved the cashier’s life. That guy looked seriously tweaked out on something.” He kept his hand extended. He wanted to see what the man did. Nick was an excellent judge of character, especially when he had the opportunity to interact with a person. “I’m Nick. Nice to meet you.”
Slowly, the man reached out and shook his hand. “Felix.”
Nick smiled. Felix’s hand was warm and slightly calloused, as if the guy did a fair amount of work with some sort of tool. Golf? Weights? A shovel? he wondered, making sure to not clasp the guy’s hand for too long. Nope. Probably military something or other, with those moves he pulled on the robbers. He resisted the urge to ask the man out for dinner. He hadn’t moved back to his hometown to start dating. He was here to help his sister for a few months, and then he’d be gone again, long before the homophobic gossips could start anything. “Anyway, thanks, man.” Before Felix could respond, the cop that had been questioning him interrupted.
“Mr. Cooper, we aren’t done speaking with you yet.” The policeman grabbed Felix’s arm and hauled him around.
Nick could barely believe the fat policeman had the strength to budge the guy. He glanced at the cop’s partner slowly stepping closer. She had the sense to look nervous in the face of so much muscular testosterone. She took a deep breath and marched over determinedly.
“Arnold,” she said, clearly working to keep her tone calm. The cop ignored her. She glanced at Nick.
He shrugged, then immediately wished he hadn’t when the wound in his arm throbbed, even with the numbing medicine.
“You didn’t answer all of my questions,” Fat Cop said to Felix, as if his partner wasn’t even there. He thrust his chin out belligerently.
Nick watched anger flash across Felix’s face, but almost immediately, his expression smoothed into a perfectly controlled mask. Interesting. That’s some impressive self-control there.
“I told you I was done answering questions,” Felix said,
shrugging off the cop’s grip.
The fat cop’s face reddened. “Now, see here—”
“Is he under arrest?” Nick asked, opening his mouth to insert
his foot. What the hell am I doing? No drama, remember? That’s your motto, he told himself, even as he continued talking. “I mean, this guy saved us from those losers.” He gestured to the cop car where the two robbers sat handcuffed in the back. Total amateurs, he thought, disgusted. They were due to head to the hospital, but since neither man’s injuries was life-threatening, the police had opted to question the witnesses before driving the men to the emergency room. “You’re questioning the wrong guy. You should be asking them why they thought robbing a mini mart and terrorizing the poor girl who works here was a good idea.”
“I don’t need any advice on how to do my job.” The cop turned to Nick, scowling. “We already have your statement.”
Nick blinked at this example of utter stupidity. “Yes. I know. Are you going to answer my question?”
The female officer intervened again, this time putting a hand on her partner’s arm. “I think we’re done here, right, Arnold? If Mr. Cooper or Mr. Banner—” She nodded at Nick. “—have any more information, they’ll call us. Right?”
Not even if all the pigs in New Jersey learn to fly, Nick thought, but he nodded, eager to not be involved in some random clusterfuck with the cops. “Of course.” He stepped back before Fat Cop could get any ideas about his involvement in the situation.
Felix didn’t nod. He didn’t retreat. He just stared steely eyed and controlled right at Fat Cop’s face until the moron backed up, readjusting his utility belt as if that gave him some sort of authority. His face had turned red with anger or embarrassment, or possibly some unsavory combination of the two emotions. Nick didn’t much care. He was busy enjoying the way Felix loomed.
Fat Cop doesn’t have a chance. Nick bit back a smile.
“Don’t leave town,” Fat Cop warned, then pivoted and stalked away, handcuffs jingling from his belt.
His partner sighed. “Thanks for your patience,” she said, and then she followed her partner back to the patrol car.
Nick rolled his eyes, amused. “I didn’t know I was going to end up as a sidekick in a bad cop movie when I woke up this morning.”
To his surprise, Felix laughed. “You never know when a situation is going to go sideways.”
Nick blinked. The smile had transformed Felix’s face from handsome to stunning. He swallowed, willing his dick to behave. “Truth, man.”
Felix rolled his shoulders. “All I wanted was a damned sandwich.”
“I just wanted a coffee.” Nick grinned. Suddenly, Felix didn’t seem so unapproachable. “Shit happens.”
“That it does.” Felix nodded at him, then turned back towards the mini mart. “Take care.” He strode away before Nick could respond.
Well damn. He sure knows how to end a conversation. Nick watched him head inside and grab some food, drop a few bills on the counter, and head out to a black pickup in under five minutes. On his way out of the parking lot, Felix tapped his forehead in a rough salute to Nick from the open window of his truck, and then he drove off down the road.
“And there goes any chance at ever asking out the man of my dreams,” Nick said under his breath, half smiling.
“What did you say?” Fat Cop asked him.
Nick startled, not realizing the cop had walked back over to him. Shit. Pay attention to your surroundings, Nick. You know better than that, he told himself. “Was just wondering if there’s anywhere else I could get a coffee around here. It looks like the cashier isn’t going to be able to take my order anytime soon.” He nodded to the girl still quietly sobbing on the back of the ambulance rig. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in town.”
Fat Cop frowned. “Try Daisy’s. That’s where I go.” He held out a small business card. “Call me if you remember anything more from today.”
Nick took the card and pocketed it without looking at it. Given his line of work, it’d be a cold day in hell before he’d call the police, but there was no need to be rude about it. “Daisy’s. Got it.” He’d been there before. In fact, he’d been there plenty of times, all throughout high school. He remembered the old red and white checked tile and the shiny leather booths quite well. He remembered that one winter when he’d come home on break from college, boyfriend in tow, eager to show his new guy his favorite childhood places. And he also
remembered being thrown out of the diner, bits of egg literally stuck to his face, when his buddies from high school had discovered he was gay. Yeah, nope. Not a fucking chance am I going to set foot in that place.
Fat Cop nodded. “Take care, Mr. Banner.” He walked back to his patrol vehicle and got in on the driver’s side.
Nick stared at the cop car as it pulled away, remembering how the local officers had done absolutely nothing to help him when he’d tried to file assault charges all those years ago. “Good times,” he muttered, abruptly feeling a lot less optimistic about the next few months.