Travis Sanchez rubbed a hand over his head as he stepped into the elevator at the Red Stone Security building. His mohawk was gone and he wore his hair in a buzz cut these days. It was probably his military background, but he always came back to this cut out of habit.
The walk to Harrison’s office was too short. He wasn’t sure why his boss had called him in after the last security detail, but a small burst of panic had detonated in his gut. He loved this job, but there had been some issues with the CEO he’d recently been guarding not following Travis’s orders. The asshole had almost gotten himself killed and now Travis wondered if his head was on the chopping block because of it.
The assistant’s desk in the outer office was empty, so he strode through to Lizzy Caldwell’s office. Lizzy was Harrison’s sister-in-law and wicked scary on a computer. Sitting behind her desk, the dark-haired woman smiled and held up a finger when she saw him. She wasn’t holding a phone to her ear, but he could see the earpiece in. She nodded and made monosyllabic answers to whoever was on the other end before hanging up.
“Finally,” she muttered as she stood and hurried around the desk. Taking him by surprise, she gave him a tight hug. “It’s been too long, Travis. I like your new haircut.”
He awkwardly patted her back. She was affectionate and had hugged him a few times in the past, but now he wondered if maybe he really was getting fired. “Thanks.” After thirty-six hours of no sleep, he was tired, grungy and… “Holy shit, are you pregnant?” The question popped out before he could stop himself. His mom had taught him to never ask a woman that unless he was absolutely sure and even then, he should keep his fat mouth shut. But he’d felt a bump as she hugged him. “I mean…”
Laughing, she stepped back and gently patted his arm. “Yes, about four and a half months now. Harrison’s expecting you so just go on in. I want to hear all about your last job later though.” Her smile was reassuring so maybe he wasn’t getting fired. Maybe he’d just get yelled at.
As he stepped inside, his eyes widened. The office was all windows—bullet resistant glass for sure because Red Stone Security didn’t mess around—and had a great view of downtown Miami, but that wasn’t what he was staring at. There was a golf set and two broken clubs on the west side of the expansive room. He’d rarely seen Harrison lose his temper, but he wondered if he’d broken them. The man had a slow burn kind of thing he did when he was angry and got really quiet before raining hell down. It was damn intimidating.
“Don’t ask,” Harrison muttered before motioning for Travis to sit.
Wordlessly, he did as his boss asked.
“Glad you’re back in Miami in one piece. Sorry you had to deal with that asshole, Cranston.” Harrison typed away on his computer as he spoke, but Travis had no doubt the man’s attention was focused on him. His boss could multi-task like no one he’d ever seen.
Travis’s eyebrows rose, but he didn’t respond because he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to. Barry Cranston had been one of the biggest assholes he’d ever been assigned to. The dick had actually requested that Travis find him a prostitute. As if that was even remotely part of his job. But, he’d guarded the man and almost taken a bullet for him so no one could say he hadn’t done his damn job.
Harrison finally looked at him, his dark eyes unreadable. “Starting today, you’re on paid vacation for a week.”
“You deserve a fucking break and I know you’ll never take one so the next seven days are yours to do whatever you want. Go fishing or…whatever. You’ll be paid and it won’t count against your accrued vacation days.”
“I’m not getting fired?” What was wrong with him? He couldn’t seem to rein in his big mouth today. Travis scrubbed a hand over his face. Man he really needed to sleep.
Harrison’s head tilted slightly to the side. “Why…because of Cranston? Fuck no. We’re never working with that asshole again. If we gave out medals, I’d give you one for putting up with his bullshit.”
“Oh. Then why the vacation? I don’t need one.” The last job had been stressful, but not much more than normal. Travis would be the first to admit if he was getting close to burnout and he was nowhere near that. Besides, it was nearing Christmas and he’d rather keep busy. His sister was living up north and he didn’t have any other living family. The holidays weren’t his favorite time of year anymore. Not since his mom passed away. She’d made everything perfect around Christmas but… He mentally shook himself.
Harrison grunted and stood. “You’re taking one and that’s that.”
By the look on his boss’s face, Travis knew he wasn’t getting more of an answer. Okay, then. If Harrison said he was taking time off, he had no choice. Following suit, he stood. “Thanks, boss. If something comes up, call me but if not I’ll check in next Friday.”
Half smiling, Harrison rounded the desk and gave him a shoulder squeeze as they walked to the door. “Nothing will come up. Enjoy your time off.”
After talking to Lizzy for a few minutes, Travis made his way back to the elevators and out of the expansive multi-story building into the chilly December air. Even though he was in the business district, the city was definitely in the holiday spirit. There were a few giant wreaths completely made of lights on some of the buildings off Brickell Avenue. Poles were lined with twinkly lights depicting Christmas trees, candles and of course the palm trees were strung up with lights. He wished he could get more into the spirit, but it was a struggle.
Instead of parking in the employee garage, he’d parked his truck a couple blocks over on Flagler so he’d have an excuse to stop at the coffee shop he’d been frequenting for the past year. Whenever he was in town, he found himself heading over there before and after work. Pathetic, but he didn’t care. Noel, the tall, lithe owner with a mass of dark curly hair and pale grayish eyes, had been the subject of his fantasies for the better part of the year. She was always friendly to him whenever he was in her shop and she sometimes sat and talked with him—something he’d noticed she didn’t do with anyone else—but he couldn’t figure out if she was just being polite.
It was nearing six, which meant she’d be closing soon so he picked up his pace. He passed a few people on the street, all of them bundled up wearing hats and coats, an odd sight in normally sweltering Miami. As he neared her shop, he slowed down and forced himself to get his shit together. For all he knew, she wasn’t even working. Before he’d reached the door, Noel of all people, walked out. Carrying an oversized purse and looking at her cell phone, she didn’t even glance up. He tried to move out of the way but she slammed into him.
Her purse slid off her shoulder as her head snapped back. Wide eyes met his and her mouth formed a small ‘O’ as he steadied her. He gently held her upper arms as she stared at him for a long moment. She was slender, but not exactly fragile. There was a subtle strength he’d picked up on the first time they’d met.
“Travis.” She practically breathed his name. It was like a seductive caress, but then she shook her head and that’s when he realized her pale eyes were bright with unshed tears.
He automatically tensed, hating to see any woman cry, but especially her. “What’s wrong?”
Glancing away from him, she shook her head and bent to pick up her purse.
Kneeling with her, he started gathering some of the things that had fallen out and nearly choked when his fingers wrapped around a box of condoms with a red bow wrapped around it.
“Oh my…that’s not…well, it is mine. One of my friends gave it to me as a gag gift for my birthday.” She snatched it out of his hand and shoved it into the mammoth black bag she called a purse.
Travis struggled to talk, as he always did around her. Thinking about her and condoms in the same sentence was threatening to short-circuit his brain. He hated his reaction because it made him feel like a randy teenager with a crush. Which is basically what he had on her. A giant crush. Her tan cheeks were a bright crimson as she met his gaze again. At least he didn’t see tears in her eyes anymore. He couldn’t handle the thought of her upset.
“You leaving? I thought I might catch you before you got off work.” He was pretty sure his sleep-deprived brain had taken over but he wouldn’t complain. He needed to ask her out and if she rejected him, he’d get over it and find another place to get coffee.
Her face brightened for a moment, her cheeks flushing even darker. “Really?” Before he could answer she sharply shook her head. “Uh, I’ve got to go. I don’t have time to talk right now, Travis. But I’ll see you later.” Now the stress was back, full force. It was so potent, it was practically surging off her in visible waves.
As she started to hurry down the sidewalk to the end of her building where she usually parked, he fell in step with her. “What’s going on, Noel?” He’d never seen her like this before. Normally she had a bright smile for everyone.
She gave him a guarded look and he could practically see the wheels turning in her head. He’d taken out his ear and eyebrow piercings for his last job but he still had visible tattoos and, for some reason, he felt as if she was sizing him up. Finally she sighed as they rounded the corner of the building. “I mentor as a Big Sister and Juanita, that’s my mentee’s name, called me a few minutes ago and she’s really worried. Her mother’s ex-boyfriend has been hanging around lately and she swears he’s never been abusive to her, but he’s been giving her the creeps. He only stops by when her mother is working and she said she thought she saw him drive by more than once.”
Adrenaline punched through him. Noel was tall and lean with a runner’s body so she wasn’t some fragile thing, but still… “You’re going over there by yourself?”
She shot him an annoyed glance. “Yeah.”