A retired assassin can’t find love, until he meets his match.
Almost dying puts some things in perspective for Reaper. For one, he is getting too old to be dodging bullets. And secondly, who will mourn him when he is gone?
Maybe it’s time to think about settling down. Problem is, exactly where does a retired assassin meet the right kind of lady?
Charming Reaper Montgomery—the first—turns to a dating service to solve his problem and finds himself intrigued by the owner, especially when his first date with her ends with bullets flying.
Between her secret past and his killer resume, they’ll make a deadly match.
Will this torture and hell ever end?
Weeks of convalescence had left Reaper feeling a tad ornery.
Real men didn’t let hospitals tether them to a bed. Real men gave the middle finger to a no-walking rule.
Most men didn’t have to deal with months of rehab because their body had succumbed to an infection from wounds that had put them into a coma.
He’d almost died.
I am not dead yet. Probably because the Devil didn’t want him to stop doing the good work on Earth.
Reaper would never die if the doctors and nurses kept mollycoddling the fuck out of him.
“No, I don’t want to shave,” he growled as the nurse offered him a razor. “I’m leaving. Today.” Now. Because he’d had enough of pale green walls, white tile floor, and the smell that every hospital had.
Despair and death. The first, he ignored. Despair was for cowards. He wasn’t a coward.READ MORE
But death… Yeah, that one gave him pause. He’d seen what it looked like. Nothingness. A big, blank fucking zero.
Everything he’d done in his life?
Didn’t mean squat once he croaked.
It didn’t make him happy.
So what? I’m not a happy guy.
Maybe I should try.
Try what? Turning into some smiling Pollyanna full of good cheer?
Fuck that shit. But perhaps a little life change was in order. He’d had time to reflect. Too much fucking time.
He needed to change a few of his priorities. However, that could only happen once he left this hellish prison.
The months he’d spent in a coma, then the additional time after in rehab, meant he walked with only a little limp to the door. One of the bullets had shattered part of his thighbone, and while healed, it wasn’t the same. Would never be.
Bullet wounds always changed something.
The doctors in this private facility—who didn’t question the story of him being attacked by a gang in the ‘hood—had fixed all his injuries. Left him a few new scars too, along with an inability to go through a metal detector unnoticed. Part man, now part machine.
Can’t be a good assassin if I can’t get into places.
What are you saying?
Extending his arm, he opened the door. He no longer felt a twinge when he used his left side.
The still angry-red marks from that wound had given him a holy-shit moment the first time he saw them. A few millimeters lower and he’d have been buried. Cremated actually because one, he didn’t want worms chewing on his brains, and two, just in case he was wrong, and zombies did exist, he wasn’t letting some strange parasite use his body.
I didn’t die.
Only because of some kind of fucking Christmas miracle, though. He should have croaked that day.
Three gunshot wounds? That was a lot, although it was not the first time that had happened and probably not even the last if he continued with his current job.
The difference this time wasn’t the coma or the rehab even. Been there, done that.
What differed this time around was that it bothered him.
I almost died.
The elevator slid open as soon as he pressed for it. Reaper scowled as he saw who stood in the cab.
Entering, he jabbed the button marked Lobby.
“Going somewhere?” Harry asked—his boss, his friend, the reason he’d been held prisoner longer than necessary.
“Didn’t the doctor want to keep you another week to ensure—?”
“I’ve been here long enough already, no thanks to you,” Reaper muttered darkly. Harry had greased enough palms to keep Reaper from leaving weeks ago.
“Excuse me for fucking caring.”
“You had them feeding me sleeping pills for weeks.”
“To let your body heal because we both know you would have tried to hop out of that bed before your leg was ready.”
“It left me vulnerable,” Reaper growled. The very idea of lying prone in bed, unable to defend himself… Yeah, that brought a chill that couldn’t be fixed by torching this place.
“When you woke up, I offered for you to come stay with me. We could have arranged home care.”
“Like fuck was I going with you.” Harry had a real home, with a wife and kids. He didn’t need some grizzly, broken assassin mucking shit up. “You should have let me go back to my place.”
“I didn’t want you to be alone.”
There was that pesky word again. Alone. Funny how it bothered him. It never used to. He used to revel in the solitude.
Damned injuries had made him maudlin.
Reaper shook his head. “I didn’t need a babysitter then, and I don’t need one now. I’m fine.”
“Good to know. But I’m still recommending you book some time off for a vacation.”
“I can do my job.”
“Doc says you need to take it easy. That bullet came awfully close to your ticker.”
Medical science had proven that he had a heart. Now, Reaper couldn’t ignore the fact that it existed—and it was lonely.
“I’m good as new.”
“I’m sure you are, but as your boss, and friend, I’m telling you to take some time to heal a bit more. It’s not like you need the money.”
A lack of anyone to spend it on meant it accumulated, especially since Reaper had simple tastes.
“Say I don’t come into work, what am I supposed to do? Twiddle my thumbs? Start knitting?”
“Why not learn to cook?”
“Says the guy whose wife makes all his meals.” Reaper had seen the lunches Sherry packed for Harry. They even included healthy vegetables.
Harry grinned. “I grill a mean steak.”
“Can’t live on steak alone,” Reaper noted as the elevator dinged and opened to the lobby.
“Says the man who has all his meals catered.”
“I wasn’t the one talking about learning to cook.”
“Fine, don’t learn to wield a spatula. What are you going to do?”
First off, enjoy the repast Reaper had ordered from the food service that kept him alive between missions. A prime rib with mashed potatoes, gravy, and asparagus. Yum.
Then, a long, hot shower and a few minutes with his hand. Months without privacy in the hospital had left him with a need.
A need a girlfriend would have satisfied for you.
A significant other would have also asked who the hell shot him up. They were nosy that way.
Once he was clean and fed, with some easy-listening Fourplay crooning faintly in the background, he’d find the cunt who’d shot him.
He had a favor to repay.
Harry must have read his expression. “We haven’t found her yet.”
Probably because the woman had cleverly wiped her tracks. “She’s bound to surface at some point.” Because, otherwise, they were pooched. They had no leads. None at all, not even a picture to work with. When Mason went to copy the security tapes before wiping them, it was to find them already clean.
There were no witnesses, no DNA, no fingerprints, no pictures, nothing, because the woman who shot him? Not Wendell’s girlfriend.
So who the fuck was she? And why was she there with a gun? Had their employer on that particular job hired two assassins? He’d claimed he didn’t after Jerome paid him a visit and tortured him for a while. But then, why was she there?
Had she mistaken him for Wendell, or was there someone looking to rid the world of Reaper?
“I don’t want you haring off on your own. If you find the woman who shot you, bring us in, and we’ll help capture her.”
By us, Harry meant Bad Boy Inc., an agency that seemed legit on the surface. International real estate. Great cover for operatives who needed to travel.
Beneath their squeaky-clean surface, though, they offered specialty services available through the Dark Web. They ranged from small-time to mega jobs. Assassination and espionage brought in the biggest bucks.
The staff of Bad Boy worked on contract, with only a few rules. They didn’t kill wives for rich men that didn’t want to pay alimony to fuck another pussy. And they didn’t kill kids.
But drug dealers who’d crossed another big dealer’s line? Those fetched a pretty price.
Want to know what a certain automaker was putting in their two thousand and something lineup? Bad Boy would bring you the blueprints so you could get the jump on them.
Activities that skirted the edge of laws meant big money. It could also be dangerous. Kind of why he liked it.
In the past, Reaper had worked well alone. He didn’t appreciate Harry implying that he needed assistance. “I don’t need help bringing in some chick.” He could handle one broad. A single bullet would solve that problem.
What he needed help with was finding someone to Netflix and chill with. But don’t tell Sherry, Harry’s wife. The woman loved to match-make.
And is that such a bad thing given my track record so far?
Harry mocked him. “Of course, you don’t want a hand. You’re the big bad Reaper.” The bringer of death.
“Did you just come here to hassle me, or did you have a real reason?” Reaper asked.
“I’m here because you need a ride.”
There wasn’t much point in asking how Harry knew Reaper would be leaving today. The man knew everything and had been a true friend since their days in the academy, which was probably why Reaper blurted, “What’s it like being married?”
Harry almost hit the door face first he turned his head so quickly. His hand shot out at the last second and shoved it open. “Can I ask why you care what my married life is like?”
“I’m thinking of dating.” The very utterance of the words earned him a startled side-eye.
“When did you stop dating?”
“I didn’t. Not exactly.” Reaper scrubbed a hand through his hair. “What I’m saying is, I’m thinking of something a little more permanent.”
“You want a girlfriend?” The high note of incredulity would have been insulting to anyone else.
But Reaper had made a point of living this long unfettered for a reason. “I think so. Yeah. I am getting older—”
“Just fucking ancient.”
“And it might be kind of nice to have someone to come home to. I mean, that’s gotta be one of the perks of you being with Sherry.”
“There’re lots of perks to being married. Downfalls, too. Keep in mind, Sherry knows what I am. I don’t need to hide shit from her. You, though, are you thinking of dating someone from the agency or a civilian?”
Reaper shrugged. “I hadn’t really thought about it. I know some folks get away with leading a double life. So it’s doable.”
“It is, but not easy if you’re still in the field. You retiring?”
“Retiring is for pussies who lost their balls.”
“There’s no shame in quitting while you’re alive. Your luck will run out eventually. We thought we’d lost you for good this time.”
“Is that where this interest is coming from? Facing your own mortality and shit?” Harry’s astute query dug into the heart of the matter.
“I just think maybe it’s time I settled down.”
“Weren’t you the one who said having a family is a liability?”
“Said that a wife and kids were just pawns that weakened an operative.”
“Yeah.” Reaper’s jaw locked as he had his words tossed at him.
“About time you admitted you were wrong.”
He stumbled and caught himself with a hand on the bumper of a car in the parking lot. “I never said I was wrong.” When Harry smirked, Reaper sighed. “Okay, maybe I was a tad harsh in my opinions.”
“A tad?” Harry snorted. “Whatever. I’m just glad you finally see the light.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means a man shouldn’t go through life alone. You should have someone to celebrate things with you. Someone to stand by your side, thick or thin. It’s about time you realized that and went hunting for that special someone.”
“Hunt?” Reaper’s nose wrinkled. “I’d rather not.”
“Then how do you plan to meet someone? Going to hit the singles clubs?” Harry asked.
“I am not hitting the bars to look for a girlfriend.” Drunk women had no appeal. He’d reached an age where he wanted more than just easy pussy.
Conversation might be nice, too.
“I’ll bet Sherry knows some girls.”
“I’ll bet she does, but I don’t know if I want someone who’s been around the agency.” Casual hookups happened a lot among them, especially since there were few women in the field. He didn’t want to have to kill colleagues just because they’d seen his girlfriend naked at one point.
“How the hell are you going to find someone then?” Harry asked.
“I’ve got a plan.” Reaper pointed at the billboard hovering overhead sporting a logo of a heart made to look like lips with a finger shushing it.
Harry gaped. “You’re going to use Secret Match?”
He shrugged. “I don’t exactly have a job conducive to meeting women to date, so I’m going to rely on some pros.”
“A dating service, though?”
“Don’t mock it. While I was being detained against my will”—Reaper glared at Harry—“I researched them online. They’ve got the highest success rate of all the local businesses.”
“I can’t see you browsing profiles and checking them out.”
“Because I won’t be. Secret Match does the work for you.”
His boss shook his head. “You’re going to trust a company to find you love?”
“I’m going to trust math and logic to find me a match.”
How hard can it be?
This is impossible. The man has no match.
In all the years she’d been in the business, Annique had never come across such a dilemma. Everyone had someone they were compatible with.
Though sometimes it took a few tries to really fine-tune the needs of individuals, to figure out who would make them happy. While her dating service couldn’t guarantee a happily ever after, it did usually manage a decent track record when it came to clients dating for months or years, with more than half sticking together even longer than that. She had a wall of wedding pictures from perfect hookups.
Yet, she’d finally hit upon a man who stumped her. A man who seemed perfect on paper and did well in the interviews—because she didn’t accept just anyone into her service. There were some folks who couldn’t deal with love. She didn’t waste her time on them. She wanted single men and women that she knew could handle love but were just too busy to find it.
She flipped through C.R. Montgomery’s file. Great profile pic. Those eyes, so piercing. The beard, rather sexy. His age, a little up there, forty-seven, yet no kids, so he didn’t come with baggage.
Employed steadily with a real estate agency. Wore a suit to work. Owned his penthouse condo, a car, and a motorcycle. Tidy nest egg in the bank. A seasoned world traveler. University educated. No arrest records.
Yes, she was that thorough; her livelihood depended on it. Due to previous experiences, she no longer dealt with gamblers. Their love of losing money usually ended up ruining their chances at a happy match. She also avoided those addicted to hard drugs like Oxy and cocaine. Pot smokers were okay, though, as long as they didn’t use it as an excuse to couch potato all the time.
According to his last physical—and the copy of the blood workup he volunteered—Montgomery was clean.
So what was wrong with him? Why did every date he embark on end in failure?
The women who’d met with him thus far had nothing truly bad to say about him.
He’s very polite.
Gruff, yet sweet.
Doesn’t talk much. The strong and silent type.
Sexy and smells good.
Although those first dates seemed to go well, he hadn’t clicked with any of them. Never called any back for a second date. According to the women, he treated them very gentlemanly, no attempts to get them into bed. Not even a kiss, which meant he wasn’t using her service as a sex buffet.
Good thing. Annique didn’t deal in manwhores or sluts for that matter. Relationships should be about more than just sex.
Why wasn’t he clicking with anyone?
She could think of one reason. Don’t tell me in this day and age there are still men hiding in the closet.
Time to find out if Mr. Montgomery was one of them.
She tapped her glass-covered, touchscreen desktop to open a channel to her assistant’s Bluetooth earpiece.
“Please send Mr. Montgomery in.”
Annique stood, smoothing down the line of her skirt, which dropped past her knees. In a day where skirts got shorter and tighter, she opted for a more modest look. She didn’t want people noticing her for her body. She preferred that they didn’t notice her at all.
As Annique came around the side of her desk, the door opened. Mitzy—her red hair a curly halo around her head and her glasses a cat-eye design in green jade—held it ajar and mouthed, “Wow.”
Wow indeed. Montgomery entered her office and practically sucked all the air from it. How else to explain her sudden gasp?
There was no doubt he was a handsome man. Tall, so very tall. She stood a respectable five-foot-six, and she didn’t quite reach his chin.
He also took the term wide to a new level. He filled out the shoulders of his suit jacket, broad and defined. The button at his midsection didn’t strain over a paunch. According to his file, he kept in shape.
His sharp blue gaze scanned her, and she might have flushed as he took in every detail of her. Not in a lascivious way. His stare never left her face, yet her body reacted as if he’d undressed her with his eyes.
Her hormones were obviously in old-lady overdrive. Her girlfriends had warned her once she hit forty that she might start getting urges.
Urges shouldn’t happen with clients, though.
“You are Mrs. Darlington?”
The deep, rumbling query snapped her out of her fantasy of touching that carefully trimmed beard to test its softness.
Get your mind out of the gutter. No stroking the silver fox.
She held out her hand. “Mr. Montgomery, thank you for taking the time to come and see me.”
“How could I resist a request from the mysterious owner herself?”
“Hardly mysterious, merely very busy.”
“I’m not sure what you think a face-to-face meeting can accomplish.” His hand slipped around hers, and she hoped he didn’t notice her shiver at the touch. His fingers were rough and more callused than a man who worked in an office should have. Did he have hobbies not mentioned in his file?
She pulled her hand free and gestured with it. “I’m not about to give up on you yet. Please, have a seat.”
The seated position didn’t render him less imposing. He still seemed to consume an inordinate amount of room in her office. Given her shallow breaths, the air was also thinner.
He crossed a leg and leaned back in his chair, his eyes partially hooded as he studied her. “I’ve already spoken to your associates several times.”
She had a staff of three working under her, competent people whose tasks involved dealing with clients to fine-tune files. Updating all the tiny little details she’d built into the program, which then sifted through the options and paired those it computed as perfect matches. But, sometimes, black and white facts weren’t enough.
“While our usual methods work for most clients, in some cases, a more personal approach is necessary.”
“Is this your way of saying I’m too complicated?” His lips twisted into a wry grin. Evidence of that sweet charm she’d heard of.
“Perhaps too challenging for the more automated methods, but I’m not about to give up on you. I know your match is out there.”
“Perhaps that person isn’t a member of your agency.”
With hundreds of accomplished clients, she highly doubted that. “I’m not giving up.” She leaned forward in her chair. “We just need to fine-tune your requirements, which is why I’m going to come straight out and ask. Are you homosexual?”
“No.” Flatly spoken.
“There is nothing wrong with an attraction to the same sex.”
“Except, I’m not gay.” His gaze narrowed, and his lips tightened. “I am very much into women. Interesting women, which those you had me meet with were not.”
“Not interesting?” Annique frowned and opened the folder on her desktop, her finger sliding over the touchscreen. A double tap brought a profile to life in the air, a hologram image they could both see of a lovely Asian woman in her early thirties. “Sook Leung is a neurosurgeon who has been studying parasitic activity in the human brain.”
“She also likes to constantly talk about bugs and use medical terms that are quite dull for those of us not in the field.”
Her lips pursed. Good point. Annique swiped sideways. Another woman’s profile picture appeared. “Joanie Maylor.”
“Loves dogs. Big dogs.” He shrugged. “I’m not into canines.”
“What about cats?”
“They’re fine. But I don’t see the point in a pet. They require lots of care, shed, and chain you to your home.”
“They provide affection and companionship.” When he shook his head lightly, she drummed her fingers. “I guess for someone in your position, one who travels a lot, they would be an inconvenience. Your trips out of town are what prompted your search for a woman who would understand the importance of your job and not be too clingy, were they not?” Some men enjoyed a woman who wanted him sleeping over every night. Others preferred a looser leash.
“I won’t be traveling much for the next while.”
At that, his nostrils flared, and he glared. “No. I recently underwent some surgery because of an accident. And, I will also note, I am not that old.”
“It wasn’t meant to offend or to imply anything about your age. It’s just not unusual to do a certain job for a long time and then decide you want something new. Different.”
“I kill at my job.” He smiled, and there was something dark and naughty about it that roused a carnal part of her.
“I don’t see much here in the way of hobbies,” she noted, pulling up a different screen, looking at her desktop rather than him.
He disturbed her. Not in a creepy, he-scares-me fashion, but more of a mysterious and intriguing holy-shit-I’d-jump-his-bones kind of way.
Hadn’t she learned her lesson? Wet panties weren’t a reason to get involved with someone. She didn’t let her clients do it, and she shouldn’t be susceptible either.
“Hobbies are for the bored,” Montgomery replied.
“But, surely, you do something in your downtime? Yachting? Jogging?” He shook his head. “Television? Staring at a blank wall?” she threw out with a little frustration. The man couldn’t possibly work twenty-four-seven?
“I don’t cook or clean either. I have a service that handles both.”
“You can’t seriously just eat, work, and sleep.”
Her expression brightened. “That’s a hobby.”
“And shoot guns.”
She made notes. “Someone athletically inclined.” Which took her out of the equation—exercising was for those who didn’t huff and puff on stairs. She wasn’t overweight—by much—but she wasn’t scrawny either.
And why the hell did her mind bother to dwell on it? She was not a contender in his search for a girlfriend.
His brow furrowed. “We tried sporty types. Dates number seven and nine.”
She flung the files for those women up in the air and perused them. “What was wrong with them?” Because both ladies posted highly favorable scores, yet he’d never contacted them for a second date.
“It just wasn’t…” He paused, and his expression didn’t look troubled, more perplexed, as if he didn’t know the right word.
Annique did. “It didn’t feel right.” She nodded. “At least you recognize it.”
“Yeah, I recognize the fact that this probably isn’t going to work. I was stupid to think it would.” He stood and loomed over her desk.
“Don’t go. Not yet. I know we can find someone.” Annique popped to her feet.
“I’m done wasting time and money.”
“This one is on me,” she offered. “Actually, at this point, consider my services free until we find you someone.”
He groaned. “Are you turning me into a pro bono case? That’s pathetic.”
“No, it’s called good customer service. You are right. You’ve paid enough. It’s not your fault we haven’t adequately served you. I’m going to handle your case personally from now on.” Back to the basics of her company. Once upon a time, it had been just her and a database setting people up. It’d turned into a million-dollar affair. Time to get back to her roots.
“And what does having you handle me mean?” He managed to imbue those words with innuendo, enough to make her feel heat rise in her cheeks.
“It means no more computer matches for you. I’m going to handpick your next date. But before I do that, I want to get to know you better so I can understand your needs.”
“And how do you propose to understand my needs?” There was that sultry tone again.
She made sure her left hand, previously tucked on her lap, was placed flat on her desk, ring finger showing. “We are going to go on a date.”
“As in you and me?” He darted a pointed look at her ring finger. “Aren’t you married?”
Nope. She’d come close once, and thanked her stars it never happened. However, making Montgomery think she was married would serve to act as a boundary between them. “Yes, I am. What I’m suggesting isn’t a real date per se. It’s more of a study. I want to see you in action. Get a better feel for your personality.”
I’d rather feel his body.
Ugh. What was wrong with her today?
“You want to observe me by dating me.” A short bark of laughter emerged from him. “That’s certainly different. Do you offer this kind of personalized service for all your clients?”
At that, she smiled and couldn’t help but tease. “Only for the difficult ones. So, what do you say? Will you have dinner with me, Mr. Montgomery?” Now, who was flirting? Poor man must be wondering about the mixed signals.
“Why the hell not. I’ll give you and your company one last chance.”
“You won’t be sorry.”
His lips pulled into a wide smile. “I guess that will depend on you. So, for this fake date, where do I pick you up and what time?”
“You don’t need to give me a lift. I’ll make reservations and text you the restaurant location.”
“I’d rather choose.”
Someone had control issues. Perhaps a strong, independent woman wasn’t the right choice for him.
“Fine. Text me a time and place at this number.” She slid a card across her desk, and he didn’t even look down as he palmed it.
“Until tonight, Mrs. Darlington.”COLLAPSE