Corbin Blue snickered, and John gave him the finger too.
Blue was an Arcadian, a race known for its people’s pale skin, white hair, and lavender eyes, and he was one of the fiercest warriors Michael had ever encountered, over six and a half feet tall, with the muscle mass of an artificially engineered specimen on a steady diet of steroids and growth hormone.
Of the three males, Blue was the only one who kept a public persona. He played professional football as a cover to get into the right parties, attended by the right people, where alcohol flowed and secrets spilled. Well, that, and because he enjoyed knocking other men around for money.
Beside him sat Solomon Judah. Michael wasn’t sure of the male’s origins. All he knew was that he’d never encountered anyone like him, and everyone who met him feared him. Including Michael! Solo either burned hot or iced cold, and there was nothing in between.
Solo kept to himself, only emerging from his “hick, backwater bat cave,” as Blue called it, for a mission. But then, Solo had to be solitary. He was taller than both Corbin and John, monstrously so, with an even bigger muscle mass, but while the others were fantasies of urban beauty, Solo was a nightmare of hellish ugliness.
And okay, yeah, that was way harsh. He only resembled a creature from the underworld when his temper overtook him. Right now, he was actually what Michael’s female assistant referred to as barbarian chic. And she always used a hushed, deferential tone.
Solo had unevenly chopped black hair, thanks to his affinity for cutting the strands with his own blade, and deeply bronzed skin. His eyes were blue and heavily lashed, his nose strong and aristocratic, with a slight bump in the center from one too many breaks.
Whenever he experienced a surge of anger, Solo’s skin would darken to a frightening shade of crimson—the last color his enemies saw before dying horribly. His teeth would elongate into something far worse than fangs. His cheekbones would double in size and his ears would grow and develop sharp points at the end. Metallic claws would sprout from his nails.
By the time the last of the physical changes occurred, no one would be able to calm him. He would rage until becoming too weakened to move, everything in his path already totally and completely obliterated.
That hadn’t always been the case. Once, his adoptive parents had had great success in the soothe-the-savage-beast arena. In fact, the pair had taken countless years off Michael’s life, terrifying him as they’d approached the crazed boy, not to try and subdue him but to wrap their arms around him and hug him close. And Solo had let them!
When Mary Elizabeth and Jacob died, Solo had been inconsolable—and once again unstoppable.
He must have felt Michael’s gaze, because he looked up and locked on him. They shared a silent moment of communication.
Michael: How are you doing, son?
Solo: If you don’t get started, I’ll rip out your heart and have it for breakfast.
That was just a guess on Michael’s part, of course, but he was suddenly certain Solo iced cold today.
“I received a great piece of intel,” Michael said, getting down to business. He sat upright and pressed a few buttons on his computer.
“Uh, I hate to break it to you, boss, but that’s not exactly a news flash,” Blue replied. “The only time you call us together is when you’ve received intel. Get to the real stuff, will you?”
“Why do you care whether or not he delays?” John said. “It’s the off-season for you, so you’ve got nowhere else to be.”
“Speak for yourself.” Blue hitched his thumb in the Rakan’s direction, all Can you believe this guy? “I have a wedding to pretend to help plan.”
Unvarnished truth, right there. And Michael was still shocked about the impending nuptials. He kept track of his boys, and knew Blue hadn’t known the girl long. A few weeks, nothing more. But that wasn’t the shocking part. After a failed relationship a few years ago, Blue had become a serial one-hit batter. Yet now he expected a lifetime of wedded bliss? Please. And the girl? Blue’s philandering was well known. Did she truly believe she would be the one to change him?
Well, she wouldn’t. The fiancée had no idea Blue worked in the shadows of the government as a hired killer, and she never would. Eventually, she would realize he was lying to her about his whereabouts, and she would demand answers he couldn’t give. She would assume he was having an affair—and he might be doing that, too—and leave him.
Michael had seen it happen to his operatives time and time again, but they kept trying, hoping to build ties with someone, anyone, and create an illusion of normalcy. When would they learn? When your life was a big fat lie, happily-ever-after was impossible. And yes, Michael knew that firsthand.
He would have released the boys from his employ, but they would have told him to go screw himself. They were brothers by circumstance rather than blood, and deep down they truly loved each other. Michael, too. Besides that, they knew of no other way to live. He hadn’t let them learn. A mistake on his part, yes, but one it was too late to rectify.
At least John and Solo would not make the same mistake as their friend. The pair had waded through too much filth to try the marriage thing, and Michael knew they both felt as if they were tainted all the way to the bone. And Solo . . . well, he wasn’t wrong about that.
Other agents made messes, and Solo was the one to clean everything up, destroying evidence that was never meant to make the light—whether living or not, whether guilty or innocent.
Michael would call him, give him a location, and tell him what had gone wrong. A few days later, Solo would have everything in order. And oh, the things he’d had to do to succeed . . .
“What’s got your panties in such a morose little twist, boss?” Blue asked. He’d always been the most observant of the three. “You thinking about my wedding? Wanting to cry because you didn’t get an invite?”
“Cry, when I’d rather kill myself than attend?” he asked, already knowing he would be there, hidden in the shadows. “Hardly.”
His gaze returned to Solo. Would he go? The guy was slouched in his chair, his shoulders slumped in a wasted effort to make himself appear smaller. His eyes were narrowed and still locked on Michael, now piercing as sharply as a sword.
“All right, moving on,” Michael muttered, taking the hint. He punched a few buttons and a screen appeared on the wall behind him. Images formed. “Meet Gregory Star. Human. Thirty-three. Married with two children, a boy, twenty-one, and a girl, nineteen. Both are heavily into drugs. We’ve traced the disappearance of several Alien Investigation and Removal agents to Mr. Star’s door.”